Public perception reflects poorly on drones because of their association with extrajudicial killings.
“Drones are beginning to have a very negative connotation,” said Mark Rom, a Georgetown University professor of government and public policy.
The NYU chapter of Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, a nation-wide progressive student organization, has recently launched an investigation into the use of drones.
“I think there is a big issue in the media of conflation of military capable drones with drone aircraft that aren’t used for military purposes,” said GLS sophomore Erich Helmreich, who is also the defense and diplomacy policy director of the NYU Roosevelt Institute Campus Network chapter. “This has generated an idea that ‘all drones are bad.’”
Therefore, the thought of drone use on college campuses may come as a surprise. However, some colleges and universities say drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, can be used for advancements in research.
One research at Cornell University was granted authorization to use drones to research solutions to potato blight. In conjunction with Virginia Tech University, the drones were used to track the spread of spores in rural regions of Virginia.
“The researcher used the permit to fly small remote-controlled planes to collect insect and spore samples in the fields above agricultural areas,” Cornell spokesman John Carberry said. This permit has since expired.
Meanwhile, the University of Florida is using UAVs to survey wildlife, and the University of Colorado at Boulder uses them to track the development of thunderstorms into tornadoes.
Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration released a list of organizations that applied for authorized drone use — one-third of the list is composed of colleges and universities.
Pennsylvania State University was among the higher education institutions that applied for authorization to use UAVs for academic research purposes, but the university was denied authorization.
Jack Langelaan, professor of aerospace engineering at Penn State, hoped to use the drones to study the flight patterns of albatrosses and other long-distance flying birds.
“By using a same-size plane to mimic those flights, scientists can learn more about albatross behavior, as well as other birds,” Penn State spokesperson Lisa Powers said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Alison Duquette explained that Certificates of Authorization can be granted to public entities that want to fly UAVs, but according to the website there are many factors that determine if the UAVs can be used safely.
“A university would be more likely to operate a UAVs with a FAA experimental certificate primarily for research purposes,” said Duqette.
While these are only available to private institutions, NYU spokesman Philip Lentz says NYU has no intentions to use UAVs, but a Ph.D. candidate at the Polytechnic Institute of NYU, Vlad Kopman, said UAVs could be beneficial for university research.
“UAVs would serve as great test platforms for dynamics and control systems research, as well as a means to record animal or other events in nature,” Kopman said.
Kopman said one of the main concerns with UAVs, however, is airspace.
“Especially in the busy skies above New York City, it [would be] crucial to make sure that no other air vehicle is put in danger,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 12 print edition. Komal Patel is a contributing writer. Email her at email@example.com.
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