Combining the explosive growth of the drone industry with the fact that drone pilots can earn up to six figure salaries is yielding the perfect storm for academia. Over the past five years, dozens of American colleges and universities have begun to offer more classes and even some degree programs in drone-aircraft piloting and technology.
The trend may be the beginning of a profitable boom. According to a Huffington Post report, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicts: “The pilotless aircraft industry is expected to create more than 23,000 U.S. jobs over the next 15 years.” The group says that approximately 150 colleges offer some type of drone-tech course or program.
Aside from the many commercial applications for drone technology (such as Amazon’s proposed delivery service), graduates with drone training and experience can expect to take the lion’s share of military contractor positions. According to NPR, the U.S. military is training more pilots to fly drones than manned aircrafts such fighters and bombers.
Although the military initially led the way in drone training, major state universities and smaller private colleges have accelerated growth of the programs. Currently, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. and the University of North Dakota are the only universities offering four-year degrees in drone piloting.
A February 2013 New York Times report on university drone programs said “The University of North Dakota was first, in 2009, and has about 120 students in the field. Last May, Kansas State University Salina graduated its first student with a Bachelor of Science in unmanned aircraft systems. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University started offering the degree in 2011 at its Daytona Beach, Fla., campus, and now has 89 U.A.S. majors. More programs are rolling out: Indiana State University plans to offer a major this spring.”
Universities that currently lack official programs are nevertheless testing the waters. At North Carolina State University, engineering students are being challenged to build better drone computing technology. Professor David Guo is leading students in a drone-construction project at Daniel Webster College in New Hampshire.
“Thousands and thousands of small UAVs are going to be in the sky because everyone wants to do this as a business or even help their existing business,” Jerry LeMieux, founder of the Unmanned Vehicle University, stated recently in USA Today. “They may want to use these vehicles as tools to help their business, or they may want to start their own business to provide a service.”
Not only are academic institutions teaching drone technology, they are also using it for research. Archeologists with the University of Arkansas and the University of Florida, used a thermal-imaging drone scan of the New Mexican desert to uncover structures in an ancient Native American settlement.
The rush to pilot the next generation in drone-tech academics is not without some turbulence. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently forced the University of Missouri’s drone-applications lab to operate indoors only. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln also received a similar warning from the FAA – and these certainly will not be the last programs to be interrupted by the FAA in the coming months.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com