DroneU: Flying the friendly skies of unmanned aerial vehicles

One way to boost the growth of drones is for providers to partner with mission complementary schools, colleges, and universities.
By: | Issue: September, 2015
August 18, 2015

Every FutureShock story we write is unique and personal. This is where we found inspiration for DroneU. One day while cruising around our lake, we noticed a drone-like mini helicopter hovering above us. When the drone caught up to us, it stopped suddenly, circled us, and then zoomed off in the direction of a nearby U.S. military base. That was our first encounter with an unmanned aerial vehicles (the preferred nomenclature we are told).

The military application of drones has been around since WWII but fast forward to the evening news and we see footage of these unmanned aerial vehicles serving a wide variety of emergent industries – i.e. increasing yield in agriculture, forestry, and livestock; providing market competition research intelligence; even unmanned package delivery.

According to the Association of Unmanned Vehicle System International, by 2025, there will be 100,000 new jobs, $82B value-added to the economy, and the creation of spinoff industries led by a new generation of drone entrepreneurs. We also learned from a December 2013 issue of Business Insider that the preponderance of growth in the drone industry goes beyond the military into commercial markets.

One way to give unmanned aerial vehicle makers the boost they need for future growth and development is for drone providers to partner with mission complementary schools, colleges, and universities. From higher ed’s perspective, the several military, commercial, scientific, agricultural, market intelligence, and retail drone industries find their roots in the classrooms and laboratories – campuses devote significant research and development, curriculum content, and faculty development to the field of unmanned aerial vehicle technologies.

Incredulous though it sounds, there is even a special institution of higher learning that is solely devoted to the field of aerial vehicle training, entrepreneurship, and education. The Unmanned Vehicle University in Phoenix was created in response to growing needs of the military and commercial drone users and offers Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Unmanned Systems Engineering, and a certificate in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Management.

From a regulatory perspective, the Federal Aviation Administration has reached out and is now addressing growing concerns of widespread and more prominent drone use. More states are passing and enforcing laws governing drones – statutes which may eventually lead to multistate uniform drone use reciprocity.

Despite the lack of uniform regulatory frameworks, the FAA recognizes drone industry leaders through its Centers of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. These Centers typically host core incubators for creating mission complementary consortia and other resource sharing arrangements to pool and leverage drone R&D assets.

So far, the FAA works with over 100 industry leaders and 13 institutions, including Drexel University; Embry Riddle Aeronautical University; Kansas State University; Kansas University; Montana State University; New Mexico State University; North Carolina State University; Oregon State University; University of Alabama, Huntsville; University of Alaska, Fairbanks; and Wichita State University. While the Center is currently housed at Mississippi State University, the Center has developed various offshoots in fuel technology, aviation safety, and airport technologies are active on campuses in many states.

From a curriculum vantage point, unmanned aircraft system programs typically explore emergent aero technologies including robotics, aerodynamics, calibrating sensors, flight instructions, circuit design, flight simulation, field practice, and federal and state compliance.

Driven by the growth dynamics of the unmanned aerial market, new jobs creation is fueling high demand industries in aviation safety, airport technology, and fuel sciences and technologies. Impressively, there are already 91 grant programs which award $600B annually through the Department of Transportation in drone research.

So, be on the lookout at your campus this fall semester for unmanned aerial vehicles navigating the friendly skies of America for all kinds of higher ed discovery research.