Calling a hobby an “addiction” isn't always a compliment.
But Tom Murrin, owner and operator of local remote-control drone company Drone Addiction, wears the name with pride.
Murrin started his company in 2016, and hosts summer camps, workshops and school classes in which he teaches young people how to fly, repair and operate drones of all sorts.
“When I kept reading about drones around 2015, the people who were getting involved with them kept saying, 'Oh, this is so addicting,'” Murrin said. “So, we called the company Drone Addiction because that was a keyword we stripped out of that.”
Murrin got into the hobby around 2014 or 2015 on the recreational side as part of a first-person-view (FPV) racing group. FPV racing involves piloting remote-control drones through high-speed obstacle courses while wearing goggles that allow pilots to see through a camera mounted to the drone.
Today, Drone Addiction brings equipment to the classroom and local events to give youths and adults a chance to learn to fly. Murrin takes his classes all over Western Pennsylvania, but also invites recreational pilots to his five-acre Adams property to race.
“I'm not much at all an FPV pilot, but I love being around them,” said Murrin.
Kids in STEM
Drone Addiction's classes can vary from weeklong summer camps to smaller workshops that take a few hours. They incorporate both remote-control flying, maintenance, safety and even pre-programming drones to fly on their own.
Murrin's goal with many of Drone Addiction's programs is to get children interested in drones, and in all of the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, components that connect to them. He has conducted educational events for girls in STEM with upward of 30 or 40 participants.
“I grew up with seven sisters, so I am interested in getting girls involved in the STEM-based approach,” Murrin said. “The educational part: I think they could really enjoy some of this stuff.”
Children who attend Murrin's classes often ask for recommendations on beginner drones to fly at home. But when talking to parents, Murrin puts an emphasis on upkeep and repair. As part of classes, he teaches a “Drone Doctor” segment about repairing and replacing components.
“We do have them do some regular maintenance on the drones because it's not 'if,' but 'when' you're going to crash your drone,” he said. “(I ask parents): Can you get parts? Can you get a loaner for it? Because there are so many drones out there that people buy that, once it breaks, they can't fix it, they can't get a part for it.”
Drones on Mars
Murrin and his team will host a “Drone Zone” at the upcoming Mars New Year Celebration. The educational festival, which will take place on the afternoon of Aug. 27 and all day Aug. 28 in downtown Mars, is a celebration of the New Year on the planet Mars, which occurs every 687 days. The event will feature hands-on activities as well as presentations from NASA experts, exhibits, local businesses, school science teams and more.
“I'm real happy and honored to be involved,” he said. “My focus with Drone Addiction has really been educational, which is why I really like events like this because my business focus has been teaching younger students, trying to get them to adopt the technology and learn about it.”
The “Drone Zone” will be under an enclosed tent on both days at the festival, so that the drones won't be blown away by wind. Visitors must be 10 years old or over to pilot a drone, and anyone in the tent will be provided with safety goggles.
Murrin has a number of potential different activities planned for the festival, so the tent isn't too congested with too many devices flying at once. He and his team will set up stations where visitors can work on putting together drones, building aerial obstacles and programming drones to fly autonomously in a course.
He plans to bring along a number of different drones, including a miniature drone called a “tiny whoop,” which isn't much bigger than the palm of a hand. He explained that these drones were created by the FPV racing community to be portable and fly indoors.
The tiny whoop drones have a small camera on the front, and pilots can watch their path through goggles or on a screen.
“You can race these things almost anywhere and they don't go too fast,” he said.
Murrin attended previous Mars New Years with his company, and is looking forward to this year's festival. He's inspired by the chance for Mars residents to meet NASA experts, as they have in previous years.
“It was so great to see the local people of Mars and these NASA scientists around the table at Stick City (Brewery), having a couple beers and just talking about incredible technology,” he said. “It was great to have those folks here, and to be a part of that.”