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Developing the Next Gen of Drone Engineers

What do text books, tacos and apple scab have in common? All three have been popping up in stories about emerging use cases for civilian drones. While legislators puzzle through the regulatory issues, a new breed of engineers are getting schooled in all things UAV, ready to cash in by developing innovative applications that do everything from deliver our goodies in under an hour to track volcanic activity in Antarctica.

Some of these enterprising engineers are taking classes right in our own backyard at Berkeley.

Now in its third year, the Berkeley Masters in Engineering (MEng) takes students from all engineering disciplines with the goal of creating engineering leaders. Sponsored by the Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership, the program combines two-thirds technical curriculum with one-third business curriculum, culminating in team-led technology projects with a commercial focus.

Dr. Raja Sengupta, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Berkeley, has been studying unmanned aerial vehicle systems. Raja has served as an academic advisor to MEng students.

“I think it’s a fascinating technology, but the reliability still has a way to go before they become as ubiquitous as Jeff Bezos and others envision,” said Sunil Shah, a Berkeley MEng student. The trick is going to be taking the technology and making innovative products out of it, which is where we step in.”

Our own Brandon Basso, senior R&D engineer, recently completed his PhD in Controls and Robotics at Berkeley. Brandon has been an active supporter of this program, advising grad students on UAVs and connecting them with resources to help them develop the next big thing.

“There are currently four students enrolled in the project — we come from all over the world,” said Sunil. “Everyone involved in our project would love to work in the industry after graduation. There’s a growing community at Berkeley. We even have a Facebook group.”

The team is currently focused on using drones to capture and analyze video to track wildlife poaching. They expect to have a prototype in six months, and potentially offer a service in a year.

“Of course, this is assuming airspace regulations will permit us to do so in the country of operation,” said Raja with a hopeful smile. “We’ll keep you posted.”

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