More than 10 years after unmanned aerial vehicles – known typically as drones – began making an impact on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, they're beginning to make their mark on college classrooms. According to the Government Technology Magazine, some schools are introducing majors that focus on drone technology to their science, technology, engineering and mathematics staples.
The recognition that drones are deserving of study focus comes from their increased usage outside battlefields. Police departments all over the country are adopting them to aid in law enforcement and they're being embraced in the civilian industries like agriculture, hunting and even tracking poachers.
Back in August, 2011 Government Technology ran a story titled 5 Emerging Technologies Soon to Hit the Government Market, one segment of which was a bit about UAVs. At the time, James Grimsley, president and CEO of Norman, Okla.-based Design Intelligence Inc., a company that develops technology for unmanned aerial systems, said that what the public conceives of when thinking of UAVs is "going to be changing in the next two to five years."
In the nearly two years that have elapsed since then, it's probably fair to say that Americans are much more familiar with drones today than they were previously.
Chad Vander Veen points to a particularly impressive prediction made by Grimsley about the use of unmanned drones for the purposes of shipping. Not even three years later, the news broke about a dry cleaning business, Manayunk Cleaners, which uses drones to deliver cleaned and pressed shirts and slacks to its customers.
The evolution of drones from military weapons to servers of civilian needs has been rapid. In this regard, even the University of North Dakota – which has offered a major in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) since 2009 – struggles to stay ahead of the curve.
Still, in the past two years, a number of schools woke up to the possibilities of drones with University of Nevada set to offer a major in UAV this fall.
Ben Trapnell is an Associate Professor at the UND's Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. He said education in drone technology is going to be vital to the burgeoning commercial/civil drone market.
"The idea of a degree program began after completing some UAS research with the FAA and DoD. It was obvious to myself and [UND] Professor Douglas Marshall that any Civil UAS industry would need leaders educated in UAS operations," he said, adding that the Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at UND has nearly five decades of experience in training young men and women to be pilots of manned aircraft – who need a strong foundation in all aspects of National Airspace System requirements. "It just seemed logical to bridge the gap between the engineer and operator to develop the leaders of an emerging Civil UAS industry."