By Richard Burnett Orlando Sentinel
While big military contractors dominate the skies when it comes to drone technology, some university researchers in Central Florida are among those working behind the scenes on the latest advances in unmanned aerial systems.
Dozens of researchers across the region hope to play key roles in creating next-generation drone technology. They are working on a wide array of unmanned-related systems, from advanced software and information technologies to aerodynamics and propulsion systems.
Nationally, more than 40 academic institutions in the country are actively working on drone-research projects, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group. Locally, that includes the University of Central Florida in Orlando and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.
All of them are hoping to land more federal research dollars for their work. So far, the Department of Defense is leading the way in spending on drone research: The fiscal 2013 DoD budget includes $3.5 billion for research and development of unmanned aerial systems — more than half of the $6.5 billion allocated for all military drone operations.
Still, drone research constitutes only 5 percent of the Pentagon’s total R&D budget in fiscal 2013. Local scientists hope that increases in future years.