A degree in drones (or, unmanned aircraft systems)


by Lizzie O’Leary

Ben Trapnell says, given the chance, “I absolutely believe that unmanned aircraft systems will have more money invested in them from a civil context than they ever did from a military context.” Trapnell helped found and now teaches at the Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems at the University of North Dakota. The program offers — essentially — a degree in drones.

Trapnell says there’s been little development of what unmanned aircraft systems can do outside of law enforcement and first responders “so a lot of the students are working with civil contractors that are providing services for the military.”

Some of the program’s students finds jobs that pay them well out of college — starting at $60,000 or $70,000 a year. He says many of the stereotypes around drones and what they’re used for are incorrect. Of his students, “not a single one of them has flown an armed unmanned aircraft” though they do work with military contractors, using drones to gather intelligence for troops on the ground.

Trapnell also objects to the use of the “d-word”:

“I think the term “drone” creates a lot of hate and discontent in people’s minds. They get afraid of it.”

As for a future with drones he says, “if it’s done in the right way, I would say that in the next five to 10 years, it’ll be become an everyday thing.”


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