Through its work with unmanned aerial systems (UAS) test sites and with the emergence of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-authorized research initiatives, Development Counsellors International has put together a list of the top 10 universities offering degrees in UAS. The list is not ranked in a specific order, but backed by the firm’s research and knowledge of universities that offer UAS degrees, it gives an idea of the range of programs available and highlights the significant research emerging from these universities.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University: This technical college offers a UAS Science degree at its Daytona Beach, Fla., location that prepares graduates to seek employment as pilots/operators, sensor operators, and operations administrators of unmanned aircraft systems.
Indiana State University: Indiana State is offering a minor program within its Department of Aviation Technology that serves as an introduction to unmanned systems operations and a study of advanced unmanned aircraft theory.
Kansas State University Salina: With one of the best aviation programs in the country, K-State Salina is the second university to offer a Bachelor of Science in UAS. K-State Salina is also one of only a few universities with authorization to fly UAVs in the National Airspace System.
North Dakota State University: With precision agriculture as its number one industry, North Dakota is an ideal home for UAS research. Not only is 89% of the state composed of farmland, the state’s major academic institutions are producing future UAS experts. While University of North Dakota (UND) is the first school to offer a four-year degree in UAS, NDSU recently announced its two-year proof-of-concept study, the first to be flown under the FAA test site which will ultimately help farmers with UAS data analysis to determine next steps for their crops. NDSU is known for its top engineering programs and is working on the UAS’ engineering components, so its research partnership with UND was no surprise since UND has one of the largest and most highly regarded aviation schools in the country and is working on training pilots to operate UAS systems.
Oklahoma State University: OSU is the first four-year university to offer graduate-level degrees specific to unmanned aerial systems engineering, and through the school’s University Multispectral Lab, the state has long served as a test bed for advanced military technologies, including unmanned systems.
Texas A&M University of Corpus Christi: “The Island University” led a statewide proposal to the FAA that culminated in Corpus Christi becoming one of the six test sites for UAS research and development. While A&M-Corpus Christi does not yet have a specific UAS degree program, it does have an established UAS research program that includes extensive airspace authorized by the FAA for UAS operations. Its specialty is studying how to incorporate UAS into marine environments.
University of Cincinnati: UC doesn’t have a specific UAS degree program; however its aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics programs have been conducting research on UAS in disaster management operations, and the University of Cincinnati Research Institute is collaborating with local entrepreneurs to further develop concept vehicles based on student simulations. One such collaboration is with the Cincinnati-based company, AMP Electric Vehicles, which, with the help of UC, has developed a high-tech delivery system using drones with proprietary geolocation software and electric vehicles.
University of Nevada Reno: As of January 2014, UNR offers a minor in unmanned autonomous systems for students majoring in computer science and engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. This program is sure to continue to grow as Nevada became the third operational FAA UAS test site in July 2014.
University of North Dakota: The John Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences is the first to offer an undergraduate degree program in unmanned aircraft systems operations that prepares graduates to work as pilots/operators and/or developmental team members of UAS. When the UAS major program started it had just 15 students, and it’s now grown to 143 students. Alongside their courses, students are required to obtain a commercial pilot certificate with instrument and multiengine ratings. The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory is providing $5.48 million in funding to UND to incorporate the Predator Mission Aircrew Training System (PMATS), a state-of-the-art UAS simulator. In addition, defense contractor Northrop Grumman has signed a three-year agreement with UND to train domestic and international UAS pilots using the SandShark and donated the drones for training in May 2014. Additionally, UND set up the first research compliance committee, a review board to address the social issues raised by UAS.
Unmanned Vehicle University: Based in Phoenix, this mostly online technical institution offers students drone pilot certifications, classes to become a professional aerial photographer, and the option to get a master’s or Ph.D. in UAV systems engineering.