TAMPA, Fla. - Students at the University of South Florida will be able to check out more than just books this fall.
Last week, the university's library announced that it would rent drones to students this school year, as part of a larger effort to expand the school's digital learning programs. USF's library is the first college library to allow students to check out drones, according to William Garrison, dean of USF libraries.
The school purchased two $1500 drones that will be able to record video and fly up to 400 feet above the ground, Garrison says. He says the money to purchase the drones came from funds left over from a capital improvement and trust fund grant to build a "digital media commons" on the library's first floor.
"After the Smart Lab was created on the second floor we saw use of the building explode," Garrison says in the announcement. "The success of the second floor's added technology and computers have inspired a similar theme for the first floor of the building."
Garrison says the library purchased the drones because students and faculty in the school's Patel College of Global Sustainability proposed a project to create an environmental map of USF and needed drones to film an aerial view of the campus. He adds that students in fields other fields, including engineering and marine sciences potentially could use drones in their classes as well.
"If you're looking at doing some study in a wetland area, you might want to get aerial photography of the wetland and do a comparison over time, for environmental purposes," Garrison says.
Some students at USF question whether the new technology is a worthwhile investment that will benefit enough of the school's nearly 48,000 students.
"I don't think that there is a large enough student population [interested] for them to have spent so much money buying those drones," Chantell Robinson, a rising senior and public health major at USF, says. "I feel it may have been just to 'show off my shiny new toy,' not solely for the advancement of the students."
Kade Cicchella, a rising sophomore studying physics and mathematics at USF, says he doesn't foresee using drones in any of his classes. Since the announcement was just made, however, Cicchella says this could change.
"This might just be because it's so unprecedented," Cicchella says. "But I am a physics major so I could see where maybe that would become useful. But right now, I don't know what I could use it for."
Garrison says the drones would be available only to students who are working on academic projects under the supervision of faculty. He adds that qualified instructors in the library will ensure that students know how to properly use the equipment. After taking the training course, students who are working on approved projects will be able to check out drones from the library like any other library item.
"These are not by any stretch of the imagination intended for just anybody to walk up and check out," Garrison says. "They're not for filming parties on campus and things like that."
Despite the academic intent and mandatory training programs to use the drones, David Frank, a rising junior and computer science major at USF, says he still has concerns about whether the technology will be used appropriately.
"Although students would have to take a class and be assigned a supervisor, it seems like it would be easy for something to go wrong or be misused," Frank says.
Cicchella adds that he has seen videos of people attempting to knock drones out of the air by throwing objects at them. He says this could be of potential concern to students who have checked out a drone.
USF's addition of drones to its library comes as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)details rules for the use of drones outdoors, allowing recreational drone use, but banning commercial use.
Garrison says that the university is working with the university's general counsel and office of student affairs to develop policies around the drones' use that would address issues of privacy, legality and misuse. He says that USF intends to fully comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.
"The intent of these drones is purely educational," Garrison says.