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Drones The Topic Of April 23 Talk

Published: April 15, 2015

The College of Engineering’s Distinguished Lecture Series returns on Thursday, April 23, focusing on “The Age of Drones and New Societal Concerns.” The event will be held in the Walter Pyramid’s The Pointe and admission is free. However, reservations are required by RSVPing to coe-dev@csulb.edu.

The program begins with a VIP reception at 4 p.m. followed by registration at 5 p.m. and opening remarks at 5:15 p.m. A panel including Northrop Grumman VP Chris Hernandez and Applied Medical VP Matt Petrime convenes at 5:30 p.m. followed at 6:15 p.m. by an audience Q&A. The panel will discuss military and Homeland Security applications and advancement, emerging civil applications and hobbyists with safety implications. For more information, please visit the College of Engineering website.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) made their revolutionary impact during the recent Middle East conflicts where they took on roles in both surveillance and attack. UAVs grew to become back-packable small RC-like models, ship-based vertical systems such as Fire Scout and large high-flying, long-endurance Global Hawks. Not only has the military found practical and cost-effective uses for UAVs but commercial entities such as Google and Amazon are looking at how they can help their businesses as well. Add to that a host of civil applications such as police, security systems (including pipeline surveillance), Homeland Security and Border Patrol.

“Many segments of our society have found ways to employ these technological marvels thus creating unforeseen challenges for the nation in terms of privacy, security, safety regulation and the conflict with civil liberty,” said Praveen Shankar, a faculty member of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department since 2011. “This panel of experts will help us understand where this technology is headed and how regulations on their operations are being developed and implemented.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently issued guidance limiting the flight of small UAVs by commercial entities (including universities.) The FAA’s proposed requirements for commercial operators to meet include passing a knowledge test administered by the agency as well as a federal security check. These long-anticipated rules will open an era in which small UAVs less than 55 pounds will perform such routine tasks as crop monitoring, aerial photography and the inspection of bridges and cell towers. Final rules are probably two to three years away and, when they are in place, they may include a separate category with fewer restrictions for very small drones.

“UAVs are growing in popularity because they are easy to obtain and operate,” Shankar said, noting that what began as a military tool has moved into commercial and private use. “The film industry is currently debating how to use UAVs in the movies,” he said. “While Amazon using UAVs to deliver packages may seem unrealistic today, who knows about tomorrow? The day may come when delivery by UAV becomes commonplace. There are many possible futures for UAVs but there are lots of standards that need to be met. Once the rules are established and everyone understands the safety issues involved, UAVs will become even more popular.”

Shankar leads a lab—the Collaborative Autonomous Systems Laboratory—where CSULB students build their own UAVs. “We research and build all types of unmanned systems,” he explained. “Currently, we are looking at both fixed-wing and rotary UAVs. We also look at underwater UAVs and unmanned rovers.”

Shankar believes that the lab is a resource for CSULB students to use to learn, apply and improve their engineering skills. “Students working in the lab do so not because they are required to,” he said. “They come because they want to learn. I think training them in technology of the future is the best outcome of the lab.”

UAV instruction strengthens the link between the COE and its professional partners.

“Most of our work in the lab is supported by area industries,” Shankar said. “We have sponsorship from Raytheon and Northrop Grumman to name a few. Their support brings a real-world perspective.”

Shankar believes the lecture series represents a unique opportunity for CSULB students to understand that attending CSULB is about more than just taking classes.

“We are trying to meet societal needs,” he said. “The goal of this series is to bring the community and campus together. I prefer the term UAV over ‘drone’ because ‘drone’ sometimes has a negative connotation. Members of the broader community probably have many concerns about the role of UAVs in our daily lives. I hope this lecture is an opportunity to learn about the positive aspects of this technology and how its introduction into the national airspace is being responsibly managed. This is the technology that will be a part of our future and the campus and community should certainly attend this lecture.”