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UNG drone involvement goes beyond research

Sharma Drone
Dr. J.B. Sharma (left) talks about civil engineering applications of drones with Corey Guthrie, owner of Ensite Civil Consulting, and Robbie Henderson of Robbie Henderson Surveying & Planning.

The popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as UAVs or drones, is driving one of the nation's fastest-growing industries. At the University of North Georgia (UNG), drones are used in research, and the university also connects directly with the industry and advises in development of drone policy.

This August, Dr. Andy Novobilski, associate provost for research and engagement and chief research officer at UNG, attended a meeting of the Georgia UAV Working Group in Atlanta. The group was started by the Georgia Department of Economic Development's Center for the Innovation of Aerospace and includes the state's UAV leaders from industry, government and academia.

Novobilski said these meetings, which he has attended twice, are important for his work as chief research officer.

"It an important responsibility for UNG to understand the direction being taken and influence, where appropriate, policies regarding unmanned aerial systems," he said. "Participation in the working group is a critical part of fulfilling that responsibility."

The main topic for the most recent meeting was the fast-growing drone business, and speakers such as Mike Wilson, aviation safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration's unmanned aircraft program, addressed how this growth is impacting the nation. Wilson predicts that in 2015 more than 1 million drones will be in use in the U.S. alone, and that drones will be the top gift this holiday season.

While drones often are used recreationally, at UNG they are an important educational tool for many faculty members and students. Dr. J.B. Sharma, professor and assistant head of the Department of Physics, and his students use drones for research and instructional purposes.

"UAV technology is rapidly emerging as a multibillion dollar industry that will revitalize several sectors of our economy," Sharma said. "This technology has applications in environmental, urban, entertainment, logistics, hazard and disaster management, and security."

Currently, Sharma has an eBee Sensefly drone, and he is integrating it into instruction and research in remote-sensing coursework, as well as research in independent study projects and civil engineering applications. He also is seeking opportunities for his students to work on drone projects with businesses and other external groups.

Another UNG research project that involves drones is an ongoing, interdisciplinary collaboration between Dr. Bryson Payne, professor of computer science, and Dr. Chuck Robertson, professor of psychological science. The research investigates the use of electronic devices that people with physical limitations can control with their mind to help better manage their daily life. Using electroencephalography headsets that measure electrical activity along the scalp, the group trains subjects to use their minds to control devices from light switches to drones.

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