RUSTON, La. - Louisiana Tech University will play an important role in the future of commercial unmanned aircraft research and development as part of a national team of leading universities that comprise the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS.)
The team of leading UAS and aviation universities and industry partners, led by Mississippi State University and its Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE), will focus on research, education and training in areas critical to safe and successful integration of UAS into the nation's airspace. ASSURE will form teams between its member universities, government agencies and industry partners to address both government and commercial UAS challenges.
As an associate member of the ASSURE coalition, Louisiana Tech's contributions will include the development of UAS communication and control technologies and standards with applications related to Louisiana economy and industry such as forestry, precision agriculture, and oil and gas.
"This is the largest coalition of universities and companies in the world who will shape the future research and development in the area of unmanned aircraft systems and drones," said Dr. Rastko Selmic, the AT&T Professor of Electrical Engineering at Louisiana Tech. "Louisiana Tech will participate in creating this technology that represents the future of aviation and remote sensing."
Selmic says Louisiana Tech and its students and faculty will collaborate with leading universities and industry partners in UAS and drone technology. "Our students in engineering, computer science, aviation, GIS, photography and other programs will be exposed to technology that is promising to change ways we live and conduct daily routines."
The research focus for this ASSURE-led FAA Center of Excellence will initially include areas such as detection and avoidance technology, low-altitude operations safety, control and communications, spectrum management, human factors, compatibility with air traffic control operations, and training and certification of UAS pilots and other crewmembers.
Dr. Stan Napper, Louisiana Tech's vice president for research and development, says that Louisiana Tech is beginning to build and organize capabilities for research, education, and innovation in the field of unmanned aerial systems.
"The university will take a multidisciplinary approach in our efforts, in part because it is one of the core strengths of our institution - working across disciplines," said Napper. "It is also because we recognize that the growth and development of the UAS field and its market applications will depend on a wide range of capabilities and innovations across multiple fields including engineering, aviation, computer science, geographic information systems, and others."
Napper says the presence of an aviation school, strong engineering and computer science programs, and a culture of multi-disciplinary collaboration give Louisiana Tech a particular comparative advantage in developing a center of excellence in UAS. "We will have an opportunity to integrate principles of entrepreneurship into our programs and align our resources with trends and developments in the market and workforce needs related to UAS."
The FAA expects this new UAS Center of Excellence will be able to begin research by September 2015 and be fully operational and engaged in a robust research agenda by January 2016.
"ASSURE will develop new standards and technologies that will enable safe and secure usage of drones in everyday life," Selmic said. "When leading high-tech companies such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, FedEx and others already invest significantly in drone-based technologies, that means that the drone tech revolution is near or already here.
"We want Louisiana Tech to be a part of that process as a leading academic institution in the State in educational and research activities in UAS area."
In addition to Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State, other member institutions include Drexel University, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Kansas State University, Kansas University, Montana State University, New Mexico State University, North Carolina State University, Oregon State University, University of Alabama-Huntsville, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, University of North Dakota and Wichita State University. This coalition represents the top institutions in the United States for UAS research.
"This world-class, public-private partnership will help us focus on the challenges and opportunities of this cutting-edge technology," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "We expect this team will help us to educate and train a cadre of unmanned aircraft professionals well into the future."
Congress mandated that the FAA establish the Centers of Excellence under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. Like university think tank partnerships, the agency's Centers of Excellence bring together the best minds in the nation to conduct research to educate, train and work with the FAA toward solutions for aviation-related challenges.