Taking Flight

Cameron Cabading '18All his life, Cameron Cabading ’18 has been building. From roller coasters out of K’Nex blocks, to remote-controlled cars and award-winning robots, and now to drones, Cabading has largely defined his life by building bigger and better things.

A transfer student from Diablo Valley College, Cabading has become a serious drone enthusiast. He has involved himself in anything having to do with drones whether it be building, fixing, flying, or educating people on what some consider to be ominous flying objects.

Cameron taught me many things about drones. He told me the Saint Mary’s campus falls under Class G airspace, which means uncontrolled airspace. This means that Cabading is allowed to fly his drones pretty much whenever and however he likes—the perks of going to SMC.  

Cabading’s focus on drones stems from taking a specific interest in flight early in life. As a baby, Cabading spent his time in the stroller looking up for planes. “I’d start hearing [a plane] and my eyes would go to where it is. I guess I still do that,” he said.  

He is the co-founder of the on-campus Drone Club, a subset of the wider Engineering Club. The Drone Club focuses on teaching people how to build and fly drones. Here, club-goers can practice their piloting skills on a drone simulator and try their hand at flying a real drone. Advanced pilots can try flying faster drones built specifically for racing.

Drone racing is his main pursuit right now and it’s exactly what it sounds like— “taking a drone and racing with it,” Cabading said. To race, drone pilots need a course, one that has boundaries, preferably obstacles and a finish line. Drone Club members are currently building a movable course for racing. Cabading hopes to bring this course into the Joseph L. Alioto Recreation Center, and host a race where the Saint Mary’s community can gather and watch.

His high hope is that the Drone Club will create a Saint Mary’s–affiliated drone racing team that competes with other schools. “I want the Gaels to dominate the drone-racing circuit,” Cabading said, smiling.

Cabading embraces the happiness that drones can bring, but he also acknowledges the negative consequences of drones.

The militarization of drones and using them as tools for counterterrorism deeply worries Cabading. On his computer, he keeps a picture of a Yemeni man named Sheikh Abdallah al-Taisi. This man and his son were in a convoy, traveling to a wedding, when a drone strike hit and killed his son. Government drone pilots mistook them for terrorists.

“I know drones aren’t the friendliest-looking things out there,” Cabading said.

I once walked into the library, as someone flew a drone overhead. A librarian walking in with me said, “It sounds like a swarm of bees.”

It seems that many people carry a rather mistrusting impression of drones. Cabading’s goal is to combat this by doubling down on showcasing their use for good.

He told of several companies using drones to help address the world’s problems, like one Silicon Valley company that uses drones to deliver medical supplies to Rwanda.

Cabading hopes to build on these successes with a few of his own innovations. His plan is to join the 3+2 engineering program at Saint Mary’s and become a drone technician in the future.

Saint Mary’s has been helpful in getting Cabading ready to start achieving this goal upon graduation. Cabading cited “A View From Above,” a lecture by engineer Brandon Basso on drone-based aerial imaging, as an example of how the College caters to its science and math-related majors. This was especially relevant to Cabading, since he also holds down a job taking aerial photos for the Office of College Communications.

He also sees how the individual attention given by professors has helped him in his pursuit of drones.  

“Actually being able to ask questions [to professors]—that’s a plus,” he said. He noted that he might not be receiving such attention from professors had he gone to a bigger school.

While he said that Saint Mary’s often emphasizes its strong liberal arts and business schools, he also said, “This is the first time in my life that I’ve ever been surrounded by people who are actually interested in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics.” Cabading is finding a community of like-minded individuals at Saint Mary’s.

Intrigued by drones? Check out Drone Club, they meet every Friday from 5-7 p.m. in Galileo, Room 202. Or just catch Cameron Cabading in the library quad, he likes to fly his drones over there from time to time. Talk to him, he’ll be happy to show you a thing or two.