Nevada prepares for march of drones

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Nevada prepares for march of drones

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Kam Leang, mechanical engineering associate professor at UNR, holds an autonomous flight vehicle prototype under development. The school is launching a new minor degree program in unmanned autonomous systems this spring.

Nevada will house one of six test sites for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. The Federal Aviation Administration made the announcement Monday, and now that the winners have been announced, state officials are rolling up their sleeves to get to work.

Steve Hill, who directs the Governor's Office of Economic Development, says the selection is a huge opportunity, one that could bring a $2.5 billion economic impact to the state, including thousands of jobs.

But Hill says the state must carve out a distinct role within this burgeoning industry:

"The very good jobs [and] the supply chain that the industry needs for support could be in Nevada, but we have to earn that. It will remain a competitive process throughout the country at the other test sites as well as other states."

Hill says that in the coming months, Nevada will be trying to lure new drone companies to the state, as well as working with education leaders to build a local workforce to support the industry.

This includes the University of Nevada, Reno's new minor degree program in Unmanned Autonomous Systems, which is kicking off this spring semester with more than 40 students enrolled.

Manos Maragakis is dean of UNR's college of engineering. He says the school is also opening an innovation center in the next month to develop drone and other related technologies.

"Also, it includes advanced manufacturing, autonomous robotics, land vehicles, and water vehicles. So, anything that is self-controlled is included in this category, and this is a major new development that everybody around the United States is positioning for."

Along with Nevada, the FAA approved test sites in Alaska, New York, North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia.

In the past, drones have been mainly used by the military. The FAA's new program will be testing and creating operational guidelines for the commercial, domestic use of drones.