Drone degrees: Universities train students for future of flight

When the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finalizes the regulations on commercial drones, as it is expected to do by the end of 2015, an entirely new industry will develop. Experts say it could generate as much as $89 billion dollars over the next decade, as high-tech jobs are created in designing, manufacturing, operating and maintaining fleets of drones.


Orion Vazquez, 23, will be one of the first students to earn a "drone degree" from the University of Nevada when he graduates in May. He is an engineering student minoring in drone technology.

He told CBS News that he chose his minor because he hopes to be on the front lines of the new industry. "That's the dream. That's really where I see myself in the future and I really want to be a part of that," he said. 

Kam Leang, a professor at the University of Nevada Reno, helped create the minor, which combines robotics and computer science with engineering. It's one of a growing number of degree programs preparing students for careers in the industry.

"It very easily would give them an edge," Leang told CBS News. "Employers would say, 'Wow. You're familiar with these systems.'" 

The minor is for undergraduate students like Vazquez. Leang's graduate students are also studying drones. They've just landed a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Army to develop drones that can detect gas leaks, radiation, and other toxins. 

The university sees these programs as a stepping stone toward becoming a Silicon Valley of sorts for the drone industry. Nevada is already home to the country's only military wing dedicated solely to piloting drones, the Creech Air Force Base. The university is creating a $3-million drone business recruitment center in downtown Reno. 

Perhaps Vasquez will be one of the first recruits.  "To think of being able to create these little devices outside of school, and basically get paid to do what I love, that's kinda where it is for me," he said.

  • Bigad Shaban

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