Helicopter parent: Techy dad builds drone to hover over kid

The helicopter parent can now stay cozy at home on those cold winter days and still hover over the kids on the way to school – with a helicopter drone.  The techy dad who built it says his son loves it ... and we kinda do too.

YouTube screenshot
A screen shot of the 'Arducopter' on a test flight.

Parents going along on their kids’ job interviews is so 2012.  The new helicopter parent is way cooler.

Think drones

RELATED: Are you a Helicopter Parent? Take our quiz!

The new trend (OK, it’s not a trend yet, but maybe it should be) started in Vermont, where a tech-savvy dad, fatigued by the frigid walk to the bus stop with his grade-school-age son, built a helicopter-like drone to do the job instead.

Dad Paul Wallich wrote about his efforts this month in the technology magazine “IEEE Spectrum,” where he is a contributing editor.

“Last winter, I fantasized about sitting at my computer while a camera-equipped drone followed him overhead,” he wrote. “So this year, I set out to build one.”

He collected a quadcopter design airframe, some motors and propellers, built legs to cushion the machine’s landing and gathered a whole bunch of equipment for the main control board that I believe he put together himself.  (I say I “believe” this because although I have read his explanatory paragraph about this about 10 times now, I don’t get it.  I might be shut out of this fad.) 

He installed software that helps fly helicopters (in the making for several years, he wrote, by open-source enthusiasts) and worked to create a GPS beacon that “could fit unobtrusively into my child’s backpack.”

Eventually, he got the machine operational and sent it, and his son, on their way.

It worked, sort of. 

Mr. Wallich told NBS that as it turns out, Vermont is a tough place for the new helicopter parenting, at least in its original design.

“You have hills and you have trees,” he said. “Hills mean the altitude control gets a lot more complicated and trees mean you have to do obstacle avoidance.
“If my kid is walking along the road and there is a branch overhanging the road, the quadcopter will gleefully run smack into it.”

He says he might be able to add sonar for collision control. He doesn’t want to fly the thing any lower to the ground because it could be dangerous. (The new helicopter parent does have standards, you know.)

Wallich says he will also have to work on the machine’s battery life.

Already, the dad has received some criticism. Some people have wondered whether this new machine is a further step in the over-protection of our children; a menacing invasion of their privacy; a tool to bring helicopter parenting to a dark, new level.

Wallich’s son, however, is thrilled by the machine, his dad says. After all, no other student has a dad who builds robot drones to go to the bus stop. 

And it’s not like the drone is going on the bus, or arguing with teachers over grades.

“The actual idea that this thing would be following him around for real, rather than for fun?  I don’t think that would actually go over terribly well,” Wallich said to NBC.

Personally, I think it’s fantastic.

RELATED: Are you a Helicopter Parent? Take our quiz!

Now I am just hoping that Wallich might be inspired to created a drone that can both follow a child and take the dog for a walk at the same time. That’s the type of helicopter parenting I could get into this winter.

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