UAV researchers at Kansas State University-Salina had a problem – the campus is so close to a local airport that faculty and students had to travel offsite just to conduct simple drone tests or educational flights.
The solution? Think inside the box…rather – the cage.
In partnership with Westar Energy, the university erected the UAS pavilion, one of the largest enclosed UAV flight facilities in the U.S. – 300-feet-long by 200-feet-wide and 50-feet-tall. The facility has been dubbed a “batting cage for drones.”
“For us and for our students, it means the students will graduate with a lot more flight time and a lot more experience,” Dr. Kurt Barnhart, Associate Dean for Research and Engagement, told Robotics Trends“So, if they have 20 minutes between class, they can step out here do some practice work. Whereas before they really had to go off campus and deploy, take their equipment, find the location and then pack it all up. It was at least a two-hour process at the very minimum.”
KSU-Salina is reportedly the second university in the nation to offer a bachelor’s degree in UAS. Since its inception in 2011, KSU officials say the program has nearly doubled its enrollment every year. The initial degree focused on flight and operations, and in fall 2015, the campus added a second bachelor’s degree in UAS design and integration.
“This unique facility demonstrates the commitment of the K-State Salina campus to hands-on learning, student success and research excellence in the field of UAS,” said Burnhart added. “Unmanned aircraft systems are becoming an increasingly important part of our national transportation system, and this facility is also a further expression of our prominent strength in the field.”
Westar Energy donated 25 wooden poles and the pavilion features custom-made netting panels on all sides and across the top. Since the pavilion is not completely closed off to the outdoors, drone pilots will not be hampered by blocked GPS signals.
“This facility enables us to offer student training, literally in our own backyard, in an open environment that ensures safe operations with no interference to other campus activities, including manned aircraft operations,” said Kurt Carraway, KSU-Salina’s interim UAS program manager.
The pavilion is the culmination of a long partnership between KSU-Salina and Westar. The utility has collaborated with the UAS program on applied research and training related to the development of drone technology the electric power energy sector, primarily consisting of infrastructure inspection.
“The flight pavilion enables us to train employees in safer, more efficient ways to serve our customers, and helps prepare students with the emerging skills they will need in the workforce,” said Jason Klenklen, supervisor of transmission maintenance for Westar Energy. “We appreciate K-State’s partnership.”