Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Drone technology program gets clearance to take flight

Levi Wilson gives a drone demo.
Grossmont College is moving forward with developing a program in drone technology, due to a large turnout at Grossmont College’s recent workshop on careers in drone technology, along with the announcement of a $6 million federal workforce development grant that Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges were just awarded.

“Clearly, the interest is there and with the funding to support developing education and training to support rapidly growing business applications, we have an obligation to the public to build a drone technology program,” college president Nabil Abu-Ghazaleh said following a two-hour workshop last week that drew more than 60 attendees, including those from Los Angeles County.

CSIS instructor Robert Gillespie
With an eye toward becoming the first community college in Southern California to develop a program in drone technology, Grossmont College’s Career Technical Education, or CTE, division partnered with the California Community Colleges’ Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy initiative and others to host the workshop focusing on careers in Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

“We were delighted to have such a strong turnout for the regional drone workshop,” Javier Ayala, the college’s dean of CTE and Workforce Development, said, adding that the college will begin building the curriculum as early as next semester. “People were obviously very engaged in the topic of drones and how they have expanded so quickly from use by hobbyists to commercial and industry use.”

Ayala said that Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges are among fewer than two dozen campuses nationwide awarded a U.S. Department of Labor Promise Grant to educate and train underserved students at no cost for high-skilled, in-demand jobs. He said the funding will help with program development, including one for drone technology.

“Because of the interest in this program and all the related technologies and the recent funding, spring semester will prove to be a very busy semester as we deploy the development stage, as well as solidify potential directions in the myriad of opportunities related to drone technology,” he said.

From package deliveries and aerial photographs to defense applications, the use of drones is expanding, opening up new careers in the technology behind the unmanned aircraft. Ayala said that Grossmont College wants to focus primarily on the programming and technology that make the autonomous aircraft and ground vehicles function. Offering courses in flight instruction is also a consideration, he said.

Ayala said that since the college already teaches computer languages like Java and C++ that apply to drones, it makes sense to teach the coding and programming to control the devices.

With drones targeted to become a $127 billion industry with use growing to 7 million from 2.5 million this year, they represent a promising yield of jobs and a growing demand for people with technical expertise, said Levi Wilson, general manager for MINDS-I Robotics, a Liberty Lake, Washington-based robotics designer and builder who also has developed curricula and labs to encourage students to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

“Most jobs currently are in improving the reliability of this new technology,” said Wilson, who gave an overview of how drones are being applied in today’s world and provided a short demonstration of a quadrotor drone. “The other side is the operation of drones as part of business uses in everything from real estate, cinematography, law enforcement, agriculture and even sports.”

Also speaking was Grossmont-CSIS (Computer Science Information Systems) Professor Robert Gillespie, who focused on the programming of drones.

“It’s about the data, not the drone,” said Gillespie, who said the future of the drone industry lies in the custom apps and cloud services built for the processing and storage of data coming from the vehicles. The in-flight and post-flight communication with drones will offer software engineers and app developers an expanding job market.

“The drone industry is at its infancy – it’s very exciting,” Gillespie said.

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