Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
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Newly Proposed State Legislature
Could Affect AEM Curriculum

According to the MinnPost, more than a dozen bills have been proposed by state lawmakers to address problems with mass surveillance and personal information breaches. Several of these bills threaten to limit, or even eliminate, the University of Minnesota's inclusion of Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in its curriculum.

While the majority of the bills target law enforcement's use of drones, Representative John Lesch's proposal would limit drone ownership to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, or BCA. This bill would enable local agencies to borrow drones after explaining their intended use and securing the necessary search warrants.

"We understand lawmakers concern about privacy, but our focus is on education," explains AEM Associate Professor Demoz Gebre-Egziabher. "The building and testing of Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles is an important part of our students' applied learning and skills development."

However, interest in UAV technology is not limited to law enforcement and education; rather, many private institutions, including Amazon and Facebook, are looking to utilize drones for delivery and Internet services.

"UAVs are poorly understood by the general public," AEM Professor Gary Balas explained to KSTP Channel 5 Eyewitness News. "Our community has not done a good job of educating the public on the benefits associated with UAVs and how we can limit the amount of personal information that is being taken."

According to a recent Minnesota Poll conducted by the Star Tribune, more than 60 percent of adults said they worry about the data being collected by law enforcement and maintaining their personal privacy.

"We must educate the community on the benefits of UAV technology," Balas added. "It has many uses in the educational and private sectors that these bills fail to acknowledge."

Farmers use these aircraft to deliver fertilizer or pesticides to individual plants on large farms more precisely. This approach, called precision agriculture, minimizes unnecessary spraying and runoff.

For construction and infrastructure management, UAVs can be used to inspect roads, power lines, dams, and bridges year round, even in the harshest of weather conditions. Currently, these activities are performed by manned aircraft, cost hundreds of dollars an hour, and are risky to the human pilots.

On the research side, in an effort to become more environmentally friendly, the next generation of commercial airplanes will have to burn less fuel and will be made of lighter and more flexible materials. We are still learning the best way to control these new aircrafts and are using scaled drones to test out the futuristic ideas. As a matter of fact, the University of Minnesota had been a leader in this application of drone research.

Passing the bills as they are currently written has the potential to thwart the advancement of UAV technology for the benefit of various fields. For more information, please refer to KSTP's article and video and the Minnesota Daily's article on the topic.

AEM students build and fly UAV aircraft to apply their classroom learning
and develop important technical skills.

Last Modified: 2014-03-28 at 13:34:49 -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation