Students in St. Joseph Academy’s media arts class gathered in one of the school’s courtyards Oct. 20 and arranged themselves in front of a hovering drone for the ultimate group picture — taken from overhead.

The operators, Paul Charbonnet and Josh Rogers, co-owners of Atmosphere Aerial, brought two drones — a smaller model called the Inspire and a much larger, custom built drone with eight rotors, called an octocopter.

Before the flying demonstration, the class spoke with Charbonnet and Rogers and asked questions about how the drones operate and the seemingly endless applications for drone-assisted photography and video.

Drones can be used for bridge inspections, to measure progress on coastal restoration projects, to collect atmospheric data for science, to gather unique marketing video of construction projects as they are being built and in the television and film industry — and at a fraction of the cost of using more traditional means.

“These drones can fly where a helicopter can’t fit, so we are able to get shots that have not been possible before,” Charbonnet said.

Drones have improved in both quality and cost over the past few years, he said.

“As far as these models go, you really have to work to crash them,” Charbonnet said, listing off the technology and safety features that go into the two drones they brought with them.

Both the Inspire and the octocopter have sensors that will not allow them to run out of power before they land.

“Even if someone grabbed the controller out of your hand and smashed it, when the drone got to the halfway point, it would just return to the spot where it took off and land there,” Rogers said.

As Rogers programmed in a route for one of the drones to fly over the school campus, media arts teacher Sara Rounds held a tablet showing a live video feed so students could watch.

It’s her goal to acquire a drone for school use one day — perhaps a smaller, less costly version.

“It would be a great tool for student use on film and media projects,” she said. “They’ve already been coming up with ways to use a drone.”

But the uses are clearly not limited to film and media. Claire Luikart, director of St. Joseph’s STEM lab, said students in her engineering design class are working on building their own drone.

“It isn’t as fancy as these, obviously. We haven’t even gotten to the landing part yet,” she said.

Rounds said the inspiration for the Atmosphere Aerial demonstration really came from a student, Madison Acaldo, who volunteered at the Baton Rouge Maker Faire earlier this year, and talked to Charbonnet and Rogers at their booth.

“And, unfortunately, she was sick today, so she wasn’t able to see the demonstration in person,” Rounds said.