WAUKESHA — For years, knowing how to code was seen as something that could help a student and job applicant set themselves apart. A new skill seems to be moving into that space: drone piloting.
At Carroll University, students can now for the first time minor in aviation science and unmanned aircraft systems.
Director of Aviation Sciences Michael Mortensen said a feasibility study was conducted to assess how having a drone pilot license on their resume could set Carroll graduates apart. He got his license the first day it became available in Wisconsin.
“The companies out there are seeing a use with drone technologies,” he said. “You’re starting to see engineering companies form drone divisions.”
“It’s nascent technology and it’s starting to grow. I’m seeing more and more positions open up.”
In class Thursday, Mortensen held a drone in his hand and showed the sensors that can be mounted underneath to gather data and measure whatever metrics students might choose. Students will learn a bit about 3D modeling so they can build platforms for the drone sensors and print them in the library — they’ll also utilize the MIT App Inventor to design a mobile app displaying the data their drones pick up.
“This all looks pretty challenging, but it’s doable,” he said before walking around class with a tablet in hand showing the app he’d built display moisture and temperature measures. The process needn’t be fancy — Mortensen said his drone uses electrical tape to hold some sensor pieces together and he’d only recently upgraded from cardboard.
The drone minor consists of four classes and was approved last spring. It’s being offered for the first time this year, though a drone class predates the minor itself.
Before class began, students gathered on Main Lawn Thursday to hone their piloting abilities with a series of precise landings, take-offs and maneuvers around obstacles.
Taking off initially from an orange mat about 2 feet across resembling a tiny helicopter pad, students flew their drones to another mat about 30 feet away with the goal of landing it on an identical mat while utilizing only the drone camera and what they could see from their stationary position as a visual reference. The series continued counter-clockwise before weaving through trees and finally landed in the same place it originally took off from.
Biochemistry major Charmy Patel said piloting a drone is something she could see using for research in the future that also happens to be fun.
Students weren’t the only ones participating. Carroll business professor Julio Rivera said he’s taking the course to figure out how to integrate it with the business program. He said the data analytics that can be conducted with drones is valuable.
“You can do heat signatures and find people at night, you can look at the health of a crop in a field, you can build 3D models of spaces,” Rivera said, adding he doesn’t own a drone “yet” but might buy one later this year.
Chemistry and environmental science professor Joe Piatt said he’s interested in using drones on a project with Mortensen and students capturing visual imagery of a lake.
Ron Braier, an alumnus from the class of 1977 and business major, said he’s auditing the class, which has “been wonderful.” Recalling how far technology has come from his college days, Braier noted there weren’t even really college computers then, let alone drones. “We had punch cards,” he said.
Adam Piantek brought his own drone, a DGI Phantom 3. A biology major, Piantek said he got the device for Christmas years ago and wanted to improve his abilities.
Mortensen said Carroll’s aviation curriculum is “sensor-centric” and designed to utilize drones as tools for capturing data and turning that into visualization graphics. “Our program is really geared toward sensors (and) using unmanned air craft to do the work for us,” he said. “And a lot of this can be automated so it just goes out and does its own thing.”
Alex Navin, one of Mortensen and Piatt’s students, has used drones to conduct a study on a Wisconsin lake gathering data about its health by analyzing dissolved oxygen and utilizing 3D mapping to assess erosion rates.
One student of Mortensen’s is now employed as an aerial videographer at a winery in California. Utilizing the technology for agriculture isn’t unique to Napa Valley either, he said the university did a recent project in Palmyra and found a drone company working with a farm there setting up automated drones programmed to go out and spray certain areas of the farm fields.
Eventually, Mortensen said he sees hybrid classes designed to supplement students’ majors with the drone minor, helping them connect unmanned aviation to chemistry, business, criminal justice, engineering or whatever else.
To learn more about Carroll’s aviation science and unmanned aircraft systems program, visit: https://rb.gy/0kmece.