UAS Education

What does a koala have to do with UAS?  Read through to find out!

koala babyToday I want to briefly touch on programs that universities are beginning to develop in order to educate future UAS developers and users.  The programs are just starting to proliferate, but I will focus on a few.  The UAV Marketplace has a list of universities offering anything from UAS majors to clubs and it appears to be fairly up to date.

There are only a few schools in the U.S. offering a full-scale UAS major.  One is the University of North Dakota.  I chose to mention UND because the Northern Plains test site has been active in developing its capabilities and was recently in the news when it received two COA’s from the FAA.

The University’s course catalog, as of February 2015, states that the major is aimed at the civil UAS industry, a Commercial Pilot Certificate is required, a minor or second major is strongly encouraged, and that a number of courses are restricted to U.S. persons.  The final note is an important consideration for any schools considering such a program.  The courses are restricted because they discuss technology covered by the ITAR (Avit 331 – Unmanned Aircraft Systems; Avit 332 – UAS Ground Systems; Avit 333 – UAS Sensor Systems; Avit 334 – UAS Comm/Telemetry Systems; Avit 338 – UAS Operations).

Another U.S. University with a UAS major is Kansas State Salina.  They have access to the Smoky Hill Weapons Range for DoD related projects and recently received a statewide COAs from the FAA.

These majors will teach a student all aspect of drone operation, but most UAS are being used for imaging of one form or another.  A university in my hometown of Rochester, NY is pulling from the imaging experience of the city (original home of Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch and Lomb).  The Rochester Institute of Technology now has the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, which is well-poised to develop UAS imaging technology.

Some also hope to turn Rochester into the Drone Capital of the World because of its imaging companies.  The article mentions Pictometry International, which developed a  technique of stitching together aerial photos from low-flying airplanes to create overhead images that look three-dimensional.  The article also points to Exelis Geospatial Systems, which has built the camera systems for most of the commercial imaging satellites.  These cameras can pinpoint a ground location to within a few meters, even while flying at 17,000 mph and over 350 miles above the ground.  Both companies are based in Rochester and well-positioned to leverage their imaging expertise with UAS.

Finally, universities have been actively performing applied research.  In a photogenic example, the Queensland University of Technology’s Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation is using UAS equipped with heat sensors to monitor the decreasing koala population in Australia.  The first flight was tested in bushland near the Australia Zoo on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and was developed to help researchers better understand koalas and why they were not surviving relocations.

(Photo Credit: – A koala joey named Frodo suckles on a syringe of food at Australia Zoo on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast on November 19, 2010. Australia Zoo)

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