Drone program starts up at UNR

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Drone program starts up at UNR

Drones

Drones from companies like Boeing were on display at UNR recently. The university has just announced a new minor in unmanned autonomous systems.

Students at the University of Nevada, Reno will soon be graduating with minors in unmanned autonomous systems.

Members of the industry were recently on campus showcasing the technology and giving students a glimpse of one potential career path: drones, although Kam Leang, who's a professor of mechanical engineering and helped design the minor, says the field includes any vehicle that can fly, walk or swim.

He says already 15 students are sold on the minor.

"My students, their eyes--the whole class lit up. It's something they're interested in, and I think they can all relate to."

The minor bundles together courses in fields like robotics and computer science that will give students some of the experience they will need to develop this technology. Leang says the potential applications for the drones he tests in his lab include monitoring wildfires or detecting toxic chemicals.

Dean of Engineering Manos Maragakis says the minor is key to growing Nevada's drone industry.

"The first thing you have to do is produce the workforce that's needed in an area strategically chosen by Nevada for its economic diversification."

Like many states, Nevada has applied to be one of the federally designated test sites for drones. If that happens, the state and its graduates will likely reap the economic benefits.

Mike Richards, who runs the company Drone America, says the time is right for increasing the collaboration between the university and the industry. He says public sentiment toward drones will evolve as the technology does.

"So when they see they can act as a fire suppressant system, or actually deliver medical supplies or liferafts into emergency regions, then they will start to realize these things are really just a tool."

The minor begins in January 2014.