Industries everywhere are using drones for countless applications, including surveying & mapping, video capture, military applications, and even to stage a synchronized 4th of July light show in dry areas where the threat of wildfires prohibits the use of traditional fireworks. Educators are also discovering that these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are excellent tools to enrich STEM curricula. But when it comes to bringing drones into—or rather, outside—the classroom, not any UAV will do. Students need an all-in-one flight package containing a drone with data gathering capabilities and the requisite software to perform analytics.
A GROWING MARKET
Drones make for the ideal STEM educational tool because they incorporate several technologies—robotics, autonomous systems, electronics—all in one device. As a bonus, drones promote high student engagement because they are exciting to operate and watch in action. So it’s no surprise that researchers are forecasting the global drone technology market in the education sector is expected to grow at a CAGR of about 15% between 2017 and 2021. In fact, data suggests that by 2021 the global market will reach $367.21 million with $103.59 coming from the K-12 sector.1
MEETING FUTURE EMPLOYER DEMAND
The future of commercial drone use is bright, and businesses need employees who can fly the actual drone as a pilot, but also staff back at the office that can take the data and make sense of it. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates that by 2025, the UAV industry in the United States will generate $82 billion and produce more than 100,000 new UAV-related jobs.2 When evaluating current and possible upcoming commercial applications, Mike Hogan, Director of Sales and Customer Service at Microdrones, says, “the part that excites me the most is the potential of what we can do with the drones and I think the other part is making geospatial data more accessible to people.”
To meet employer demand, colleges are developing training and education programs that focus on UAV-based geomatics operations and application development. These programs are a natural fit as course offerings within mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, and robotics programs. Not only do these academic offerings get students interested in STEM subjects, they also arm students with skills and knowledge they can use in a variety of career fields like archaeology, architecture, engineering, construction and design, mapping, urban planning, agriculture, forestry, environmental monitoring, and utilities.
BEYOND FLIGHT SCHOOL
Some academic institutions like The University of North Dakota, Kansas State University Salina, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University are already offering drone degree programs. According to Mike, an education in drone technology must go beyond simply training a student how to fly a UAV: “Underpinning all of it is an understanding of the geospatial world… Operating the drone is just one aspect of it. How you collect the data, how you process the data in order to achieve a certain result is actually the key part.”
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