A mild-mannered tech and media support coordinator for Oregon State University Extension Service by day, Victor Villegas takes on the persona of The Drone Singer during his off hours. Yes, he fashions himself as the Weird Al Yankovic of drone songs.
Following the FAA's recent launch of a well-intentioned but dull campaign to encourage safe flying of personal or commercial drones (a.k.a., unmanned aerial vehicles or unmanned aircraft systems), the 46-year-old Villegas released to YouTube "If You Get a Drone for Christmas," his first drone-related parody song designed to get the safety message across in a catchier way.
"I had already been working on my song and was planning to post it on YouTube on Christmas Eve to encourage people who received a drone as a gift to fly safely and responsibly," he says.
Emboldened by a positive reception on YouTube (the video has about 4,000 views as of this writing and way more thumbs up than down), Villegas went on to post a handful of other drone "carols" -- "My Drone Flew Away," "I Heard the Drones on Christmas Day," "Carol of the Drones," etc. -- over the next few days. Since then, he has added to his high-flying song collection, which now includes a tearjerker of a Valentine's Day song and a rejuvenating ode to New York City.
Of course, it never hurts to have a sense of humor while working in IT. Villegas supervises a small team whose job is to help more than 700 people in nearly 60 remote locations across Oregon use technology to do their work better.
"I do this by facilitating teaching, learning, connecting and collaborating with others via video conferencing, social media, digital media content, Drupal websites, WordPress blogs, webinar/presentation apps, and other online technologies. I also provide training and consultation to Extension faculty and staff and work as a 'bridge between the tech geeks and end users," Villegas says. "With so many different locations across the state, we depend heavily on our network infrastructure and the Internet to provide much of our support remotely."
The versatility Villegas displays at work translates to his musical endeavors. He says he's been writing songs and poems since he was a kid, so writing lyrics quickly comes as second nature to him.
"Sometimes I'm inspired to write about a particular subject or theme, such as when the FAA came out with the #NoDroneZone campaign for the Super Bowl," he says. "I started thinking how I could parody it. Well, NoDroneZone kind of rhymed with 'Danger Zone,' so the Kenny Loggins song from "Top Gun" immediately popped into my head, and I thought, perfect! Now I just had to come up with lyrics to fit the music."
Villegas (@OSUExtTech) found a karaoke version of "Danger Zone" on YouTube, then recorded his vocals over it using a USB mic plugged into his Mac and Audacity, open source audio editing and recording software freely available online. The crooner used the QuickTime screen recording feature to capture the FAA's video on YouTube and some footage he found of the Super Bowl stadium that just happened to be taken with a drone a week before the event. He cobbled it all together using iMovie, with the entire process taking about four hours and enabling him to post his #NoDroneZone video just a few hours after the FAA posted its.
Some of his videos are essentially crowd-sourced, as Villegas scours the web for selfies taken via drone-attached cameras and then asks permission to use the footage in his music videos. Villegas is otherwise largely a one-man band and choir -- he plays ukulele, guitar, hand percussion, electronic keyboard and even Apple's GarageBand app, and sometimes records his vocals several times over so that he sounds like a quartet.
Villegas doesn't just sing about drones. He flies R/C planes, helicopters and quadcopters, and in his job, he works with researchers and faculty who use UAVs. He's even been asked to co-moderate the Unmanned Aircraft and Agriculture and the Unmanned Aircraft Operators Google+ Communities, and is now part of the leadership team for the eXtension Unmanned Aerial Systems Learning Network, which was created to share information and resources across research universities.
He'd love to see the likes of Amazon eventually be allowed to make deliveries by drone, and when asked if traditional enterprise IT and networking vendors like Cisco and IBM might one day jump into commercial drones, Villegas doesn't flinch.
"I keep telling people drones are just a platform," he says. "The real value is in analyzing the data obtained with these platforms and converting it into information people can use to make important decisions. That is where the true innovation in this industry will be and those companies who can capitalize on it will be the real winners."
Lest you think Villegas' musical stylings and themes can be easily pinned down, you'd be mistaken. Among other things, he has drone-related privacy on his mind these days and is mulling Spanish songs. And coming up next: A blues number about a man and his little lost drone.
"An all too regular experience for many people," Villegas laments.