Don’t Call Them Drones

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As uses for unmanned aerial vehicles take these machines beyond their military heritage, a new academic minor at Florida Tech prepares students for this emerging, multi-billion-dollar industry.

$11.5 billion.

That’s how much money will be spent on unmanned aerial systems by 2024, according to The World Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Market Profile and Forecast 2014 from aerospace consultancy Teal Group.

A new minor program led by Julie Moore, a major in the U.S. Air Force and assistant professor of aviation science at Florida Tech’s College of Aeronautics, may prepare students to become part of this growing aviation and technological trend.

“There are so many applications even yet to be discovered, and the technology is only going to improve,” Moore said. “People haven’t really cracked the code on the best practices for different applications—what the challenges are, how to mitigate risk—and we’re excited about exploring these areas and leading the way in this important research and discovery.”

Operating unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, which can range from lightweight quad copters to Global Hawks weighing 15,000 pounds, involves more than handling a remote control.

Flying is part of the necessary skill set, to be sure, but so, too, is building, programming and modifying the vehicles—even planning missions.

All of those areas are taught in Moore’s 18-hour Unmanned Aerial Systems program, a minor which positions Florida Tech among a handful of schools that understands the future of aviation, aeronautics and many other fields will involve unpiloted aerial vehicles—and people skilled in the ways to use them.

“It’s an exciting place for the students to be, because they are getting into an industry on the ground floor,” Moore said.

And already that ground floor is crowded: scientific research, infrastructure inspection, firefighting, agricultural monitoring, law enforcement—all current or potential uses for unmanned aerial vehicles. There are geophysicists who use them to predict the location of mineral deposits and NOAA scientists who hunt hurricanes with UAVs.

Even before the launch of the minor program in fall 2014, Florida Tech faculty have been exploring the potential uses of unmanned aerial systems. For example, College of Engineering faculty members L. Daniel Otero and Paul Cosentino received a $250,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to research the use of UAVs in inspecting bridges and tall lights, called high mast luminaries.

And Moore’s students in the UAS minor are pursuing other areas as team projects. One will use an unmanned aerial system to simulate search and rescue efforts to determine how that method compares with on-foot searches. Another will investigate the efficacy of “geofencing” at airports, a technique that creates a GPS barrier meant to prevent UASs from entering particular airspace.

“There are a near unlimited number of applications for Unmanned Aerial Systems, and we look forward to exploring this new, exciting field,” Moore said.

—Adam Lowenstein

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