Drone Research at OSU

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CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has selected Oregon State University to conduct research on unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones.

Similar to remotely controlled aircrafts with a video camera, the small 30-40 pound devices are the source of much international debate. Are they an invasion of privacy?

“Technology is good up to a point,” said Corvallis resident Jai Adams. “And then it’s not. It gets misused.”

OSU will be one of six Pan-Pacific test sites to evaluate how drones can be operated in conjunction with national airspace.

“And who knows what those drones can do?” Adams asked. “You know? Getting into the wrong hands, I mean they can drop bombs and do all kinds of misdeeds.”

But despite the criticism that many people have regarding drones, OSU says its research will help many different types of industries in a positive way.

“These are not military applications at all,” said Rick Spinrad, the Vice President for Research at OSU. “So they’re not being used to deliver weapons or being used for military purposes.”

Instead, Spinrad says the drones will help industries such as forestry management, agriculture, and search and rescue. Crews can use the vehicles to detect wildfires and help track people down if they are lost in remote areas.

“Instead of relying on a single helicopter to try to find them or a single fixed-wing aircraft,” Spinrad said. “You now could put out eight, ten, a dozen of these small, unmanned vehicles and monitor a much, much, larger area.”

One mechanical engineering student, Ian Shute, says he thinks it is a good step for the University.

“I think this is exciting because it gives us an opportunity to hopefully get involved in this,” he said. “As students we’re always learning and growing and asked to try new things and invent new things. And so as students, it’s kind of in our nature to try to think outside the box.”

The University says the drones are expected to become a multi-billion dollar industry, so providing additional research opportunities for students could help with the job-search after graduation.

“It will open a lot of possibilities and a lot of growth for the students as well as for the community,” Shute said. “With something like this on our resume, such as working with drones and trying new things, I think companies will be excited to see that. Especially if these companies are already working on making parts for the drones or are working with them in some way.”

But some people still question the development of the drone technology.

“Even if they find good things to do with the drones, there are still going to be people who will misuse it,” Adams said. “If they could figure out a way to do it so that it’s not going to get in the wrong hands – but how are they going to do that? How are they going to be able to control that? They’re not going to be able to.”

The FAA also selected research sites in other states including Alaska and Hawaii. Spinrad says the agency picked Oregon for its diverse terrain. OSU will have test sites in different Oregon environments including the coast range, the desert, urban areas, farms, and the Cascade Mountain range.

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