Jerry LeMieux is the founder of the world’s first university dedicated solely to unmanned systems education. LeMieux is also a college lecturer, commercial airline pilot and retired Air Force colonel who identified that he could meet a unique demand in the online education marketplace.
“At the end of the day, I’m just trying to do something good for the unmanned systems community,” he said at the drone sector’s Las Vegas trade show earlier this month.
“It’s something that I look at as very important. What’s my motivation for doing this? Everybody has a little bit of a teacher in them. Now, I’m finally able to do it on a larger scale.”
Unmanned Vehicle University is currently online only, having just received its international accreditation this July. However, Colonel LeMieux envisions it expanding to offer live instruction at a campus in Arizona, probably located in Lake Havasu.
The launch of the university is in anticipation of commercial and personal licenses for drones being available from 2015; they are currently only legal for military and law enforcement agencies. Soon, the Federal Aviation Administration will craft detailed training and certification requirements for the expanded base of drone operators. Colonel LeMieux has hope that UVU will be accepted for full FAA certification. If this goes as planned, then graduates of his program will leave fully licensed by the federal government.
But there is a significant risk that they will not be granted FAA certification, as the requirements are still unknown.
“I take risks,” Col. LeMieux said. “That’s a risk, that I’ll get FAA certification within a year. But that’s my goal, and I’m building a program to go in that direction. … A lot of schools are trying to get into this game.”
The University of North Dakota is part of the competition, with students already able to study unmanned systems there. Like Colonel LeMieux and UVU, they are also gambling on the much sought after FAA certification.
William H. Semke, a professor of mechanical engineering teaching at the school’s Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research, said that they were hopeful because they had a long track record of working with the FAA. They aided in the development of the drone program and are familiar with the knowledge base required.
“What training will [pilots] need? That’s going to change as time progresses. But right now, we’re right in the middle of that,” he said.
Colonel LeMieux and the many other institutions trying to develop programs for the study of unmanned craft believe there will be a huge demand for the services of their graduates as the potential for drone usage in non-military situations is explored. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently founded a ‘drone journalism’ lab to examine the potential and ethical concerns of using drones for remote news gathering.
In a climate where the future of most jobs is uncertain, the appeal of a degree which has a high potential for practical use is obvious — and it seems likely that the institutions concerned have correctly anticipated future demand and are taking full advantage of the technological revolution which has made such advances possible.