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Demystifying the drone at Portland Mini Maker Faire

Local men to present at DIY event with robots, rockets and more


by: ONATHAN HOUSE - Patrick Sherman and Brian Zvaigzne will present 'How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Drones' on Saturday at the Portland Mini Maker Faire. Sherman, a 1987 Lake Oswego High School graduate, says drones have a bad rap because of associations with war activities but they also offer opportunities for scientific research and emergency response.Although their presentation at the upcoming Portland Mini Maker Faire has a zany title, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Drones,” Patrick Sherman and Brian Zvaigzne have several serious points to make.

First, the two men say they are hobbyists only: Sherman is an administrative analyst for the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and a 1987 graduate of Lake Oswego High School, and Zvaigzne is a small-business owner who lives in Tigard.

They do have a website, Roswellflighttestcrew.com, but they do not have a drone business. This is an important distinction in that the two men are not paid for any of the activities they engage in. They must follow certain guidelines, but they do not need a license from the Federal Aviation Agency to fly their radio-controlled aircraft.

Secondly, although their drone does have a camera in it, they are most emphatically not spying on people.

“Our drone can’t see through walls or windows, and it cannot hear what you are saying,” Zvaigzne said, noting that drones sound like “flying lawnmowers,” so they are not going to be sneaking up on people.by:  JONATHAN HOUSE - Rather than buying a drone, Patrick Sherman and Brian Zvaigzne decided to make their own.

Mini Maker Faire

The Portland Mini Maker Faire is a “showcase of invention and creativity,” said Andrea Middleton, events director for OMSI. She noted that the event is named a “mini faire,” because the original Maker Faire in the San Francisco area features 800 to 1,000 makers.

What has impressed her the most about the more than 100 participants in the Portland event is “the sheer variety; we have robots, rockets and crafts — we even have a guy who has wrapped his car in yarn.”

The event is family friendly, and will be enjoyed by late elementary school and high school students and adults, she said.

Sherman said after their presentation at 11 a.m. Saturday, the two men will set up their equipment and give people “drone rides” by letting them put on the goggles and follow the drone’s progress as it flies over the Willamette River.

They are expecting a group of like-minded people to be at the OMSI event, Zvaigzne said, noting that the faire will be made up of “extreme do-it-yourself people; if you can make it, people are doing it.”

‘Hexicopter’

Zvaigzne and Sherman first became serious about radio-controlled aircraft about two and a half years ago. They built their “hexicopter,” a six-rotor helicopter, from scratch, using a bright-yellow upturned Rubbermaid mixing bowl, six motors, propellers, a flight controller and other components, most of which were purchased online.

“A couple of years ago local hobby shop owners looked at us funny when we asked about parts, but now they stock them,” Zvaigzne said.

The craft is powered by a lithium-polymer battery, which is standard for radio-controlled cars and airplanes, Zvaigzne said, adding that their drone can fly five to 10 minutes before the battery needs to be recharged.

by: JONATHAN HOUSE - The duo use a pair of goggles while piloting the drone to get a better view of what the camera is seeing. The drone can live-stream a video from the air.A key component of their drone is a camera, made by Flir, an international company headquartered in Wilsonville that has been making infrared-imaging systems since 1978.

“We are incredibly fortunate that FLIR is in Wilsonville. We make videos explaining how we do things, and they stumbled on our website and provided us with one of their cameras,” Sherman said.

The camera allows the drone to record both in visible light and thermal images, and it is the latter that is so crucial.

“The camera can see the heat coming off objects, which is useful when the drone is participating in search and rescue missions, because it can spot the humans right away,” he said.

Research and rescue

“Drones have gotten a bad rap from stories about military drones dropping missiles on people, but our interest is in scientific research and helping first responders,” Sherman said.

In April, Sherman and Zvaigzne flew to West Virginia to work on a University of West Virginia river restoration project.

The Cheat River is a native brook trout stream, and the trout thrive in colder water, “but you can’t tell just by looking at the river where the cooler springs, seeps and tributaries come in. We flew the thermal imager over the river and found those places with extreme precision,” Sherman said.

As for helping first responders, it is in the realm of public safety that the two men and their drone have made some great strides.

They flew the drone during a controlled burn of an apartment complex in Longview, Wash., and assisted Portland Fire and Rescue with a controlled woodland burn in North Portland.

On Aug. 7 and 8, Sherman and Zvaigzne worked with Eugene Fire and EMS on a three-story burn house, a river-search scenario and a hazardous spill scenario.

During the latter exercise, the fire chief directed them to fly over a nearby stationary train, and in an unplanned demonstration of the drone’s capability, it detected that one of the railcars was emitting heat.

“We zeroed in on the car and switched to thermal imaging; we then were able to read the placard on the car and discovered that it was carrying molten phenol. We inspected the valves on top and there was no leaking; it was perfectly safe,” Zvaigzne said, noting that phenol is always shipped hot.

In this situation, no laws were broken and the railcar did not pose a hazard to anyone. But in real, potentially hazardous conditions, without the drone it would have taken “a dozen firefighters an hour to get the same information it took us two minutes to get. Hazardous material spills are a deadly threat to the public and first responders,” Sherman added.

Pumpkins, balloons and floats

Sherman and Zvaigzne consider themselves to be “technological evangelists, because we believe that technology will change the world for the better,” Sherman said.

That is part of their mission at the upcoming Portland Mini Maker Faire, but the two men have also participated in some decidedly quirky events.

They flew the drone and photographed the Tigard Festival of Balloons, the Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Tualatin, where participants carve out giant pumpkins and float in them down the river and two Willamette River float activities sponsored by the Human Access Project.

The first of those Willamette River activities was on July 5, when 620 people, holding hands and floating on inner tubes, beat the previously held Guinness World Record for “Most People in a Floating Line,” and the second was on July 28, when the two men flew the drone over the Big Float, “capturing aerial images of 2,000 people floating from the base of the Marquam Bridge to the bowl at Tom McCall Park,” Zvaigzne said.

“We want to demonstrate that drones are not something to be afraid of,” Sherman said, adding: “Whenever we flew by people at these events, they waved and smiled.”

Digging into DIY

What: OMSI presents the second annual Portland Mini Maker Faire

When: Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 14 and 15, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: The event will take place in OMSI’s north parking lot, 1945 SE Water Ave. in Portland.

Cost: $12 for adults, $8 for youths (ages 3 to 17) and seniors (63 and older).

For more information about the event: Call 503-797-4000 or visit makerfaireportland.com or omsi.edu.

For more information about Patrick Sherman and Brian Zvaigzne: roswellflighttestcrew.com. Be forewarned the two men go by Lucidity (Sherman) and Techinstein (Zvaigzne) on their website.by: JONATHAN HOUSE - Patrick Sherman and Brian Zvaigzne have built their own drone that can live-stream a video from the air.




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