UW-Madison pilots course on drones

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Drone with digital camera over a sunset
Drone with digital camera over a sunset

MADISON- Usage of unmanned aircraft, or drones, have taken off in the past few years. UW-Madson, capitalizing on the trend, is offering a course on drones this summer, and plans on offering the course again in coming semesters. The course will train students on how to fly drones in accordance with ethics and relevant regulations, and will include a certification exam from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Pat Schneider at The Capital Times reports:

A course on piloting drones — the first of its kind at University of Wisconsin-Madison — is being offered this summer.

While the inaugural class, which began May 30, has only eight students, interest in drones and learning to use them is high, said instructor Chris Johnson. Johnson, director of the UW Flight Lab in Industrial & Systems Engineering and a program specialist in unmanned aerial systems, developed the new course.

“Most people are completely enthralled by the technology,” Johnson said.“It’s really refreshing to see because there is a lot of value that can come from it.”

“Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” will train students to fly drones safely and ethically and about business and technology applications of the devices. The mid-term exam will be the Federal Aviation Administration exam for certification to operate drones for commercial purposes.

The class is expected to return this upcoming fall, spring and continue into semesters after that, Johnson said.

Johnson also chairs a state committee on drone legislative matters, and is working to make UW-Madison a state authority on the use of unmanned aircraft systems.

In 2015, UW-Madison temporarily closed its airspace to drones, after the FAA said it would require hobbyists to register their drones. Drones for commercial use then could be flown only by operators with a pilot license.

The FAA last year loosened the rules on hobbyist operators and introduced the certification test. And on May 19, a federal court of appeals struck down the FAA rule requiring registration of recreational drones.

So, UW-Madison is introducing its new policy for operating drones on campus.

Recreational use of drones on campus still is prohibited under the new rules. And operation for educational purposes or other UW-related activities must be by someone with the FAA certification.

The UW policy also creates a UAS Ethics and Safety Committee, which can require a minimum level of flight experience for pilots, including those who hold FAA certification.

Drones have applications for real estate, insurance, construction, utilities, agriculture, marketing, journalism and more, Johnson said. One example is inspecting electrical wires for hot spots and corrosion. Right now, utility companies have to hire helicopter crews when drones can collect better data faster for pennies on the dollar.

“This industry is very immature, but it’s poised to boom,” Johnson said.

Read more at The Capital Times.