In recent years, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has passed new drone regulations, particularly affecting D.C. hobbyists. In response, the D.C. Area Drone User Group (DC DUG) meetup is turning to activism.
Organizer Christopher Vo created the Drone Legal Fund in 2015 to help with the court fees of local drone builder and attorney, John Taylor, who is suing to overturn the FAA’s controversial 2015 regulation that mandated all hobbyists register their drone. (Several legal drone experts agree that Taylor, who lives in Maryland and is a DC DUG member, has a strong case.) The fund has raised $5,500 so far.
“I called Taylor up and he told me he was basically a drone hobbyist that wanted to see things change,” Vo said.
Taylor didn’t ask for help, Vo said. DC DUG just wanted to help the drone user community.
Now, Vo is incorporating the meetup as a nonprofit to get tax-exempt status for its fundraising efforts.
DC DUG turns five this year, and Vo, who became president in 2011, says the group has grown significantly since its then: “It was just a bunch of guys meeting up in an alleyway in Hastings and trying out unmanned aerial vehicles.”
Nowadays, DC DUG’s mission statement includes not only flying unmanned aircrafts, but also educating the public about how drones can improve their lives – and even save them. The Drone Legal Fund also states that “with enough support we hope to expand the scope into other relevant legal issues.”
“The Fund is one of many projects we’re engaged in to try to improve the community.” explained Vo. “We are also trying to get ourselves recognized as a community organization.”
According to the member list on its Meetup page, the meetup boasts around 3,000 members.
DC DUG is also part of the national Drone User Group Network, which reports over 16,000 drone hobbyist members.
For all the upcoming changes, the group will remain a resource for those looking to learn more about drones, and connect with other hobbyists.
“I started with model aircrafts as a kid,” recalled Vo, who found drones when studying swarm robotics as a graduate of George Mason University. Fostered by DC DUG, Vo’s passion for drones led him to cofound Sentien Robotics and become its chief scientist, specializing in coordinating swarms of drones.
This Saturday, the DC DUG is showing off drones and drone projects at Barracks Row Fall Festival.