As unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and drone technologies increase in usage across a wide variety of industries worldwide, multiple new UAS-related programs of study and research initiatives are taking flight at Ohio public institutions of higher education.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that commercial drone sales, powered by expanding usage in the agriculture, military, supply chain, utility, media, and public safety industries (to name a few), will increase from about 600,000 in 2016 to more than 2.5 million in 2020. As a result, the UAS industry could create more than 100,000 drone-related jobs by 2025, including an estimated 2,725 jobs in Ohio, according to a report by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
In order to commercially pilot a drone, an individual must pass a background check by the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as well as an exam covering aeronautical regulations and restrictions. Several programs aimed at preparing future commercial drone pilots have already been launched in Ohio.
This past June, Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) began offering an eight-session drone certification course to prepare future pilots to pass FAA certification exams. Tri-C also offers the Drone Academy, a weeklong UAS pilot training program that introduces law enforcement officers, firefighters, or other first responders to drone technology, its capabilities, and how and when to use drones in emergency and homeland security situations.
At the opposite end of the state, Butler Tech offers a Drone Ground School, a four-session course that also aims to prepare future drone pilots for the FAA’s certification exam and covers current drone rules and regulations, reading aeronautical charts, piloting lessons, and ethical guidance when using drones.
For students interested in a deeper dive into UAS, several Ohio schools offer degree programs. Kent State University offers a UAS minor that introduces students to various types of unmanned aerial systems and their increasing role in society.
The UAS associate degree program at Sinclair College prepares students for entry-level positions in the UAS industry by providing foundational knowledge and skills in UAS technology, mission planning, maintenance, federal laws and regulations, data analytics, and project management. Sinclair also offers a One-Year Technical Certificate program in UAS technology, and this past spring received Ohio Department of Higher Education approval to offer a four-year Bachelor of Applied Science in UAS degree, pending approval by the Higher Learning Commission.
In addition to training and education, UAS-related research continues to expand in Ohio as well. Sinclair College’s National UAS Training and Certification Center in Dayton supports research, development, and training on vehicles and components through advanced unmanned and manned simulation, sensors, avionics, maintenance, advanced manufacturing and rapid prototyping, data analytics, and wind tunnel labs. Sinclair remains at the national forefront of UAS training and applied research support through collaborations with leading UAS organizations in academia, government, and industry. Sinclair also founded and continues to sponsor the Journal of Unmanned Aerial Systems, a peer-reviewed publication that serves the public as an open-access online resource enabling the development and distribution of knowledge for the UAS industry.
In 2014, Sinclair formed a unique partnership with The Ohio State University, creating new transfer pathways from both its certificate and associate degree programs into OSU’s data analytics and geospatial precision agriculture programs. Last year the two partners acquired FAA approval to operate UAS at The Ohio State University Airport in northwest Columbus.
Ohio State has nearly 50 faculty and research staff with UAS-related expertise, spanning the domains of engineering, agriculture, medicine, data analytics, climate modeling, law, and policy. More than 300 OSU graduate students conduct UAS-related research annually at the Ohio State Center for Aviation Studies, the Aerospace Research Center, and the ElectroScience Laboratory. Some recent OSU research has focused on such emerging UAS issues as drone detection technology and policy, ingestion of a UAS into a jet engine, human injury resulting from a drone crash, human-systems interaction, ground control station design, development of robust control links that are resistant to jamming or hijacking, remote sensing of crop health, and aerial surveying of harmful algal bloom toxicity.
Last year, an Ohio State team of engineers set a world speed record for an unmanned aerial vehicle of any size, when its UAV flew autonomously with sustained average speeds of 147 mph over a course approximately 28 miles long over Lake Erie.
Although the University of Cincinnati (UC) doesn’t have a dedicated UAS degree program, its aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics programs regularly conduct research on UAS applications, particularly in relation to disaster management operations. Also, the UC Research Institute continues to collaborate with southwestern Ohio students and entrepreneurs to help develop concept vehicles based on simulations, such as a recent collaboration with the Cincinnati-based company AMP Electric Vehicles to develop a high-tech package delivery system using drones.
In July, UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science was awarded federal grant money as part of a project to help the Ohio Department of Transportation create new UAV tools for bridge inspections, traffic counts, and construction oversight. The project funding was awarded through the Ohio Federal Research Network (OFRN), a consortium of Ohio universities that includes both public and private institutions, which aims to spur innovation in the state’s aerospace industry. As further evidence of its interest in the expanding UAV field, the OFRN recently announced that it will explore the use of drones to transport passengers in the form of “air taxis” or other vehicles.