Region a player in growing drone market

Sinclair center to add classroom space, partnerships.

“We’ve been an early pioneer of this early phase of UAS,” said Sinclair President Steven L. Johnson, referring to the growing unmanned aerial systems industry.

That growth was very much on display inside the Dayton Convention Center on Tuesday. The first day of the three-day Ohio UAS Conference drew more than 700 people and 70 exhibitors across the United States, Israel, Mexico and Australia.

The attendance was a record for the growing three-year-old event.

The commercial market for unmanned aerial systems will “dwarf” sales to the military within a decade, said Michael Tosanco, president and CEO of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

Tosanco said the revolutionary technology is on an evolutionary path much like computers or automobiles and will change the lives of nearly everyone when drones are integrated into civilian airspace in coming years.

“The state of the industry is more and more people want this,” he said.

Drones will increasingly take over jobs that are dirty, dull, difficult and dangerous and do them more effectively and efficiently, he said.

100,000 new jobs predicted

The Federal Aviation Administration is under a congressional mandate to integrate UAVs or drones into civilian manned airspace by September 2015. The FAA chose six locations across the nation last year, snubbing a bid from Ohio and Indiana, but officials say the region has led the nation in sense and avoidance technology research and has potential to gain future jobs.

An AUVSI study projected the industry would create 2,700 jobs and have a $2.1 billion impact in Ohio by 2025. Nationally, the study predicted 100,000 jobs and an $82 billion market within the same time.

One drawback for businesses is a wait for regulations from the FAA, which has kept the industry from expanding as fast as it could. But addressing concerns about privacy and safety are essential to gain public confidence, officials said. The FAA is considering 30 requests for waivers from companies in industries from movie making to utility line inspections that are eager to begin use of the technology, said Robert Pappas, special rules coordinator of the FAA UAS Integration Office.

“We’re one of the few industries that want to be regulated,” Toscano said.

Unclear rules

Colin Snow, a Silicon Valley drone analyst, said a survey of nearly 300 respondents this year, most of whom represented businesses, showed 71 percent said the rules on UAV operations were unclear and half said they were very unclear. Under favorable rules, the survey found 65 percent said they would start a business immediately.

Military budget cuts may slow spending on drones within the Department of Defense, but the Pentagon will continue to research new uses for UAVs, said Steven Pennington, executive director of the Department of Defense Policy Board on Federal Aviation.

Those uses may expand to air-to-air refueling and hauling troops and cargo. “All those are being looked at by all the services in the next 20 years,” Pennington said.

The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has led the nation in developing effective sense and avoidance technology, Pennington said. The military uses drones for surveillance and strike missions.

The UAS conference also staged an Air Force-organized indoor flying contest with three collegiate teams — the University of Toledo, East Carolina University and Lorain Community College — vying to navigate a small drone through a maze to find a lost object without using GPS technology. Some of the drones crashed on early attempts.

“As we’ve seen so far, autonomy is very difficult,” said Eric Vinande, an AFRL engineer who helped coordinate the competition.

The University of Toledo won the contest with a $7,000 top prize.

More classroom space

Sinclair’s unveiling of plans for the new training center, set for completion in about a year, will open space for partnerships with the University of Dayton, Ohio State University and Wright State University in the 28,000-square-foot space, said Deborah Norris, Sinclair vice president of workforce development and corporate services.

“It will give us more classroom space focused on UAS because we are going to move some classes out of that space,” she said.

Students will be able to fly UAV quadcopters indoors.

Sinclair’s UAS program has had 650 students enrolled in courses, with 157 pursuing a two-year degree, she said.

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