Saturday, September 2, 2017

An eye in the sky



BROOKINGS – Drones seem to be everywhere these days. Even South Dakota State University has added them to the curriculum.

For the first time, SDSU is offering a 12-credit course on the flying machines, and students who complete the course will earn a certificate.

Most people see drones as an instrument for fun, but they are being used more and more in industries as varied as building inspection to agriculture to law enforcement and firefighting.

Having that certificate can give a person an edge in the job market, instructor Byron Noel said.

“It could be an added skill set to somebody already involved in any sort of industry,” he said. “Drones are pretty much like computers. Computers aren’t just for the computer science department. They’re used by every single department.”

The future is here

“We can see the writing on the wall about where this technology may lead you in even five or 10 years,” said Bob Watrel, interim department head of geography. “The idea is you learn the skill set to enhance what you’re doing in your major. Just like a lot of technology, you never realize how they’re gonna infiltrate into society.”

The course is already used in areas such as remote sensing, agronomy, engineering and construction, precision agriculture, military uses, information sciences, real estate, and searching for missing persons, the two said.

One of the faculty members in engineering is trying to have drones inspect bridges, Watrel said.

“Instead of sending a guy all the way up the (wind turbine) tower, they can send a drone up with a nice camera, look for any defects, problems, cracks ... If there’s a problem, then send the guy up; otherwise, just move on, so you save a lot of time,” Noel said.

“It’s useful in any field where an aerial perspective is useful,” he added.

“We’d just like to give our students the opportunity to have this skill set, no matter what their major is, so they’re more marketable when they go into the work force in South Dakota or anywhere they might go,” Watrel said.

Noel has some real-world experience with that. Businesses like Monsanto are looking for people to pilot big drones.

“Out of 30 pilots, there were two of us that had remote sensing and ag experience. That really got me on this idea (for the course),” Noel said. “Companies want this as an added skill set to your resume. I’ve been working with them for three years now.”

“I think that’s gonna be really huge. You’re gonna see these things flying around all over, after a bit,” Watrel said.

Preparing quickly

The cornerstone of the course is a new class on small unmanned aircraft systems, Watrel said. It is an entry-level class with no pre-requisites, as are the other two required classes: aerial remote sensing and aviation safety. Each class is three credits, for a total of nine. For the remaining three credits, students can pick one class from a list of six: intro to GIS; data creation and integration; remote sensing I; fundamentals of flight theory; emerging technologies in agriculture and lab; and risk management & construction safety.

Sign-up is through web adviser and the fee is the same as for any other classes with similar credits, they said. The course can be completed in a year.

“Anybody can sign up for it,” Watrel said, not just SDSU students. “It’s for the whole community as well, whoever would want to enhance their skill set.”

Safety is a huge factor in the rise of drones and a big aspect for Noel and Watrel, too.

“To teach students to fly hands-on is definitely the best way to go,” Noel said. Students will practice on the computer with simulations and later will be flying at the research park.

“These things can be potentially dangerous, they can hurt somebody,” Noel said. “Even though it is (an intro class), there’s a lot of safety aspects to cover.”

The next step

“The idea behind the course is to prepare the students to take the FAA 107 certification test,” Noel said.

“If you just want to fly for fun, you don’t need a license,” he said, adding you do need a license for any form of commercial use or to make money.

For instance, a real estate agent would need to be licensed.

“The big deal is when they crash ... If it goes down and damages some kind of property, injures somebody, you will not be able to be covered by liability insurance (if you don’t have a license),” Noel said.

“I feel it will put you head and shoulders above other applicants, being able to operate this kind of technology legally,” he added.

The test covers how drones work, airspace, where drones can and can’t be operated, weather conditions, federal and local laws, and safety practices, to name a few.

The official drone pilot licenses from the Federal Aviation Administration only came out about a year ago, and Noel is the second person in South Dakota to get the FAA license, Watrel said.

The test has 70 multiple-choice questions, and there’s no practical or hands-on requirements, Noel said. Applicants must be at least 16 to take the test.

Both men see more potential for the course in the future.

“We hope it will catch on and go to a minor hopefully in a couple years and then a major,” Watrel said, adding some schools already have masters degrees in this technology.

“We’re just starting; we’re hoping that it becomes bigger and better,” Watrel said.

Original article can be found here ➤ https://brookingsregister.com

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