Affinities #15: The East Bay Drone Uprising

Lauren Murrow | October 8, 2014 | Lifestyle Story City Life

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Drone hobbyists Mark Harrison and Andreas Oesterer, self-described “coconspirators” of the remote control flying group EastBay RC, both live in Piedmont. But the pair first met digitally, on a drone-building discussion board. “We discovered we live three minutes away from each other in a Swedish chat room,” Harrison jokes.

The 51-year-old computer programmer has made around 25 homemade multicopters, drones, and flying robots, which he builds in his basement workshop with electronic parts commonly used in mobile phones. He and Oesterer test out their latest creations on mornings at the Berkeley Marina, where they’re joined by a handful of local aerial photographers and RC enthusiasts. Despite drones’ controversial associations, the club’s makeshift models rarely elicit negative reactions from bystanders. “Ours aren’t very threatening,” Harrison says with a shrug. “The biggest risk is probably dropping a GoPro on someone’s head.”

The flying field does stoke friendly competition between builders, however. Oesterer once won a bet with “a famous RC pilot” in Switzerland by turning scrap wood into an airborne flying machine in just 52 minutes. Harrison’s most admired drone to date is fashioned from multicolored pool noodles and illuminated by LED light strips. “These days, you can buy a flight control board for around 20 bucks,” says Harrison. “It’s cheaper than golf, I guess.”

Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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