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Drones at UMBC fail to take flight

Popularity rises but FAA continues to regulate

Drone technologies are becoming more prominent in politics and on college campuses leading UMBC to develop specific UAV policies.

Once ruled by birds and then by planes, the sky’s latest addition includes drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

While these aircraft may lack a pilot physically aboard the vehicle, a trained team on the ground controls the UAV through a variety of sophisticated radar systems, image sensors and a network of cameras depicting locations and flight conditions.

Moreover, drone operations have become key national security projects as they precipitate concerns for civilian privacy.

A BBC News article reports that drone use under President Obama’s administration is more than double that employed during President George W. Bush’s time in office, illustrating the technology’s achieved eminence.

While the United States government is currently the principle drone proprietor, these technological advancements have also earned recognition on numerous American college campuses.

In 2009, the University of North Dakota was the first college in the country to institute an unmanned aerial systems major. Kansas State University Salina, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Indiana State University are also following suit by introducing UAV or UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) majors to their aeronautical science programs.

“Just about anything you do with aviation today, you can do with unmanned aerial vehicles in the future,” said Andrew R. Lacher in a New York Times article. Lacher is a researcher affiliated with the Mitre Corporation, a non-profit organization assisting with the government’s UAV programs.

With drone technology amplifying into a “rising new frontier of aviation” according to Lacher, UMBC has also found it necessary to develop policies regarding drone usage for research.

UMBC’s main campus location is categorized as a Class B airspace due to the campus’s vicinity to a major airport, according to a correspondence from the UMBC Office of Research Protections and Compliance.

Additionally, UMBC’s closeness to Washington D.C. poses further flight restrictions and security concerns.

Recognizing such problematic constraints for research institutions, the Federal Aviation Administration is considering public safety, air traffic and the necessity of continual drone research as they detail vigilant UAV flight policies.

“Currently, UMBC is unable to permit the operation of any UAS/UAV/drone on campus and UMBC cannot host research using UAS flight,” reports the UMBC Office of Research Protections and Compliance.

To maintain the university’s dedication to progressive research, collaborative efforts with affiliates including the University of Maryland Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site and the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) are underway to provide researchers with access to UAS approved flight sites and resources.

In consideration of students’ privacy, the UMBC Office of Research Protections and Compliance stated, “UMBC is currently examining these issues, as we want to provide a safe environment for our students, faculty and staff that is conducive to learning, living and working.”