Elizabeth City State University now has a mobile drone lab, taking its highly lauded unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) degree program curriculum into the field, and providing students with more hands-on experience in one of the fastest growing career fields in the country.
“This is a real game changer for our program,” said Dr. Kuldeep Rawat, dean of The School of Science, Aviation, Health and Technology.
A Ford Transit van has been customized to outfit the mobile command unit with computer stations capable of programming drones in the field and receiving information in real time. Aviation Science and Emergency Management program students will have the advantage of working in the field, experiencing true-to-life scenarios and research projects, involving drone use.
“This is truly a laboratory in the field,” said Dr. Rawat. “We can launch from the back of the mobile unit and get important information while in the field.”
As drone technology becomes more and more pervasive throughout daily life, the advantage of a bachelor’s degree in UAV technology is extremely important in today’s job market. Students are learning the skills necessary to work with the technology in fields as diverse as public safety and agriculture.
Dr. Rawat says the mobile laboratory provides ECSU students with the hands-on activities that will be necessary for them to have a solid foundation in the field after graduation. Currently, ECSU students and faculty have been working on projects that take them into the field but require them to return to campus to complete the research. With the mobile lab, students are able to not only operate the drone, but also plan the flight and analyze data on the spot.
The lab can also be used as an educational tool for middle and high school students. ECSU has been operating a mobile STEM lab for five years, taking innovative technology to area secondary schools. The mobile drone lab, says Dr. Rawat, could also be taken to schools.
The mobile lab also gives ECSU the ability to cooperate with area health service providers, emergency management and law enforcement agencies in the field. In addition, Dr. Rawat says the lab can be used as a mobile health clinic, potentially delivering vaccines to remote, rural counties throughout the region.
ECSU has been called upon to assist public agencies in the past, using drones to track criminal suspects and help surveille the area in the event of a storm. The mobile lab makes ECSU a more effective community partner.
ECSU’s drone degree program launched in fall 2019. The U.S. Dept. of Education, and the accrediting agency SACSCOC, approved the bachelor’s degree program, making it the latest addition to ECSU’s growing aviation science program, the only four-year program in North Carolina.
“Students attending ECSU to pursue a degree in Unmanned Aircraft System can expect exciting opportunities in a number of industries,” said Dr. Rawat.
Students entering the program receive drone pilot training, mission planning, data processing, system design and integration, and more. The program also includes applied research in areas such as precision agriculture, infrastructure inspection, 3D mapping, Homeland Security, and thermal imagery.
The degree includes instruction in electronics/electrical systems; GPS/GIS; UA aircraft platforms; data acquisition; precision agriculture and surveying, software and hardware; and data management. Upon completion, students will have obtained the necessary skills for entry-level employment in industry that engages drone technology for their operation.