Droning on

New minor at the university

Photo/Sage Leehey

The university now offers an 18-credit minor program in unmanned autonomous systems available to students with mechanical engineering, electrical and biomedical engineering or computer science and engineering majors. Indira Chatterjee is the associate dean of engineering and has worked on creating this program. For more information, visit www.unr.edu/degrees/uas/minor.

Why was this minor created?

The reason we created it was because we were involved in the whole state of Nevada effort towards being designated an FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] test site. And so we got involved on the educational side of it. It was actually our dean, Dr. Maragakis, who said that we needed to be proactive and do a little bit more than just be involved but actually establish some sort of educational program for our students because if this whole designation of the FAA test site happened and the state started putting more emphasis on unmanned autonomous systems, then it would be good to have training for our students. So the easiest thing we could do without major resources was establish a minor.

Unmanned autonomous systems—what does that mean, exactly?

Anything that doesn’t actually have a human being in it, driving it, so for instance, the aerial vehicles, like a plane would have a pilot in it. Now, these unmanned autonomous systems, like the unmanned aerial vehicles, do not have a human being in it piloting it. The piloting is being done from the ground with no human being on the actual vehicle. They come in various sizes. They can be very tiny or they can be huge. You can put in a lot of instrumentation, sensors, things on it and have it go into situations like for instance where there’s a wildfire, and it would be dangerous for human beings to go or they couldn’t reach it. We know that in Nevada we have terrain that is hard to get to. We could send one of these there to either look at what’s going on or, if the vehicle is big enough, to actually drop chemicals or whatever is needed to try to put it out.

What’s the goal of this program?

It’s all geared toward economic development because we hope that there will be a lot of action going on in Nevada because now we have the test site designation. So a lot of companies that need to do testing of their autonomous systems, they come to Nevada, and I think they already are coming. We’ve already met with a few companies that are interested in either moving to Nevada or bringing some business to Nevada. So we need to have the workforce ready. This will give the students an edge because they already have the technical know-how to work with these companies.

What’s most exciting about this program?

What excites me is the interest from the students. The students are amazing. They catch on to what’s going to be hot and big in engineering very quickly. And for me, the fact that these students are so excited, and they want to gain the knowledge, that’s very exciting. And the fact that we, in engineering, can work with all these companies … I work on industry partnerships, and we’re already talking to companies and trying to partner with them with educational programs or research.