Thursday, June 8, 2017 | 2 a.m.
A small grant was one of the final pieces Arthur Eggers needed to implement a drone technician program at CSN.
“It was the key to the program and allowed me to do it using existing curriculum,” said Eggers, who is the Unmanned Aviation Systems Program academic lead at the College of Southern Nevada.
The recent grant, $195,925 from the Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation and Technology, is helping Eggers buy equipment. The CSN program addresses a need not being met by current drone-related programs, he said.
At the high end, he said, there are the bachelor’s and graduate-level robotics-engineering programs in which students learn to design drone systems from the ground up. While those programs are great, Eggers said, they’re not for everyone.
On the low end there are courses geared for hobbyists that can teach people how to fly drones in a few days. “But if (those students) run into problems, with that course, they have no idea how to fix it or how to approach it,” he said.
Eggers said his program targets the middle ground to teach students the practical technical skills needed to support the drones used in commercial applications.
“They’re going to have a feel for commercial aspects of the industry,” Eggers said. “The one thing we didn’t want to create was an environment where we are training hobbyists. We are looking for students to be knowledgeable about products the industry will actually use.”
Students will learn fabrication and engineering skills to build and repair drones, as well as programming skills to work on the software that controls the devices.
Because many drone applications involve imaging technology, students will take photography and videography courses. And they’ll also spend some time learning about state and federal aviation rules and regulations.
Students who complete the program will earn an associate of applied science degree in electrical engineering with a focus in unmanned aviation systems.
Adding the drone program will cost CSN very little, Eggers said, because the school already provides most, if not all of the courses planned for the program.
“At this point, we are probably not (hiring faculty),” Eggers said. “If we can put this together with existing classes and instructors, the outlay would pretty much be supplies. To date, we have spent $200,000 on quad aircraft and support equipment. The idea is to have 15 platforms once everything is procured.“
Students already enrolled at the college have told Eggers they’ll sign on once the program is underway. Based on conversations with people in the industry, Eggers said those students have a decent shot at a job once they graduate.
“I’ve spoken to a drone-build company in Reno called Drone America, and they’ve already said they’ll hire every student we train,” Eggers said. “We have an industry advisory committee that includes a company called Praxis. We have the president of that company as chair, and another drone company Avisight is also on the committee. So we’ve got very strong oversight from industry to help guide this and make it successful.”
The timing is right for the CSN program, says Mark Barker, director of business development for the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS), a nonprofit corporation created by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to promote the development of the drone industry.
“The unmanned aerial systems (UAS) industry is in the emerging stage, and there’s been a change in the regulations that has driven more recent activity,” Barker said.
The changes in regulations, he said, helped to promote the commercial use of drones, which previously had been limited to military applications. This means the industry should be looking for people with practical technical, programming and regulatory skills.
“What they’ve put together here is a really nice, complete program,” Barker said. “So if a young person in high school is trying to decide if it’s something they want to get into, they can take this, rather than taking a four-year degree at UNLV or UNR in robotics. And this program fits in a little more with what the industry is looking for.”
The program is not listed in the CSN catalog, but all of the courses in the program are available, Eggers said. Because CSN is an open-enrollment school, students can take the classes now and declare the major later.
Getting the discipline approved for inclusion in the catalog will take some time — it should happen by fall 2018, Eggers said. But students can ask a counselor which classes to take, search for it on Canvas, CSN’s online learning management system, or contact Eggers himself.