PARENTS

Paul Wallich, Vermont Dad, Builds Helicopter Drone To Follow His Son To The Bus Stop

12/05/2012 10:21 am ET | Updated Dec 05, 2012

Paul Wallich's ingenuity is no joke, but feel free to insert your own helicopter-parent joke here: The Vermont dad built a camera-mounted drone helicopter to follow his grade-school-aged son to the bus stop.

The distance from Wallich's home to the stop is just 400 yards, he wrote in the tech journal IEEE Spectrum, but that trek can be daunting in winter.

"If I am walking my kid to the bus stop in December and January, I would really rather not be doing that," Wallich told NBC News.

He added that his kid enjoyed having the only dad who can make robot drones, but if he used the helicopter for real surveillance, it wouldn't go over very well.

There's no doubt the gizmo would provide an awesome show-and-tell contribution. Wallich fashioned the helicopter with four rotors (making it a quadcopter) out of store-bought parts and mounted a smartphone with video-chat that could transmit the footage back home. A GPS beacon in his son's backpack was supposed to keep the whirlybird on track but hills and trees interfered at times, he wrote.

The power source became a big issue, too. Lithium-ion batteries provided just one round trip to the bus stop, prompting Wallich to write: "So until the batteries improve by another order of magnitude or so, I’ll have to do most of my watching the old-fashioned way, in person."

Reaction to the do-it-yourself drone has hovered between admiration and alarm.

Wallich's project prompted Lenore Skenazy, author of the parenting blog Free-Range Kids, to write, "I already HAVE an invention that would keep him safe while Dad stays inside, warm and dry. It’s called TRUST."

Readers chimed with comments on Wallich's IEEE Spectrum essay and elsewhere, saying the eye in the sky was too intrusive. But others said it was just an excuse to build something cool.

For more technical details, check out Wallich's IEEE Spectrum story.

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