Students have high hopes for drone careers

Students have high hopes for drone careers

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

When you think of drones, you probably think of the military or law enforcement. Until now, those who developed these technologies were mainly in the military, but not anymore.

How about a drone delivering hot pizza right to your door, or a drone to get into dangerous places to help firefighters find the safest way to enter a burning building?

Dr. Jerry Lemieux says this is our future, and unmanned vehicles are those tools.

"I really have a positive opinion of this whole industry," he said, "and we're trying lead to the education and training."

Dr. Lemieux believes in the up and coming technology so much he started the first university specifically for drones. It's called Unmanned Vehicle University. It's based in Phoenix, Arizona, using professors from across the country.

The retired colonel holds a Ph.D. in engineering and has over 25 years of experience with research, development, technology transfer, integration and flight test and evaluation. He also has over 20 years of course development and teaching experience at major universities and aviation schools including MIT, the University of Maryland, and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

He has flown as a fighter pilot and Delta Air Lines pilot and accumulated over 40 years and 10,000 hours of aviation experience.

"Most universities give general degrees, so that gives them the capability to go in different places. We did it backwards," he continued. "We started with a job and then we developed a curriculum to meet the job."

Most classes are online and range from how to fly drones to a doctorate and master's degrees specializing in engineering applications from drones.

"I've always loved aviation," offered Lorie Grabham, a student at the university. "And seeing over the last few years what has transpired in the unmanned systems, I've just started having a passion and started researching, possibly going back to school for my masters and ran into this university."

Stephen Rayleigh is an instructor. He teaches students how to build and operate small-scale UAVs. Rayleigh said his classes "give the students deeper understanding and appreciation for how the UAV works and especially when it doesn't work they know to troubleshoot it."

Congress ordered the FAA to fully integrate drones in our airspace by 2015. As many as 10,000 of them could be flying at that time.

Rayleigh gave us an up-close look at just a few of the jobs these drones can do. Like hands off flying, and drones that are sophisticated enough to have ground stations and flight plans.

There is also aerial photography. Entire maps can be created with a drone's camera. It's technology that could one day help farmers find damaged crops or monitor watering remotely without ever having to step onto the field.

"Any business that currently uses satellite imagery could get this kind of thing for a fraction of a price and its actually higher resolution than Google Earth, certainly," Rayleigh continued.

It's these types of applications which those at Unmanned Vehicle University say are helping lead their students skyward and into the future.

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