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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What’s Your Major? Drones.

This photo taken March 26, 2013, shows flight test pilot Alex Gustafson carrying an InsituScanEagle unmanned aircraft in preparation for a flight in Arlington, Ore. It’s a good bet that in the not-so-distant future aerial drones will be part of Americans’ everyday lives, performing countless useful functions. (Don Ryan/AP)

This photo taken March 26, 2013, shows flight test pilot Alex Gustafson carrying an InsituScanEagle unmanned aircraft in preparation for a flight in Arlington, Ore. It’s a good bet that in the not-so-distant future aerial drones will be part of Americans’ everyday lives, performing countless useful functions. (Don Ryan/AP)

A recent study estimates the drone industry in the U.S. could create 70,000 jobs and generate $13 billion in economic activity in the coming decade.

Industry experts are expecting the demand for drones, sometimes called unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), to explode.

“We have a joke around the office: five or six years ago we couldn’t spell UAS, now we have a whole program on it.”
– Ken Polovits

The Arlington, Virginia-based Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International says the prospects for the unmanned aircraft industry are “virtually limitless.”

American colleges and universities are trying to fill that demand. Nearly 100 schools have applied for permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate drones.

Some schools already have programs in operation. The University of North Dakota’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences provided one of the first programs in the country.

“We have a joke around the office: five or six years ago we couldn’t spell UAS, now we have a whole program on it,” Ken Polovits, assistant dean at the School of Aerospace Sciences told Here & Now.

Currently, private businesses are not allowed to operate drones, but the FAA expects to have the initial steps for allowing the private use of drones in place by 2015.

“The real roadblock there is integrating the drones into commercial airspace,” Polovits said. “The FAA is currently looking into building six test sites where they would study how to do that. But the technology is there.”

There has been some push back from states who are nervous about the use of drones. So far, 37 states have introduced legislation placing limits on the use of drones.

Florida is poised to pass a law that would require the police to get a warrant before using drones for surveillance.

Idaho and Tennessee already have similar laws on the books. Earlier this year Charlottesville, Va. banned drones from city airspace.

Guests:

  • Ken Polovitz, University of North Dakota’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.
  • Zachary Waller, graduated from the University of North Dakota’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences with a major in unmanned aircraft systems operations.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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