By Erin Delmore
Drone technology is soaring to new heights and New Jersey is leading the way. Top researchers from the state schools met with legislators to talk about research, development and new applications, plus where the science is headed in the future.
“Drones have become the popular vernacular for things that fly without a pilot. And the interesting this is that from the little toys that stay up in the air for maybe ten minutes and you can spy on your neighbors over the fence to things that re really the equivalent in size to manned aircraft there are very many exciting applications going on now to figure out how to do the dirty, dark and dangerous chores that maybe are not really so appropriate, or frankly affordable, to use manned aircrafts,” said Donald Sebastien, president and CEO of the New Jersey Innovation Institute.
That includes delivering emergency medical supplies, expanding cell phone reception and inspecting Zika virus breeding sites. In the near future researchers say they’ll be able to go a step further collecting water samples and delivering insecticide.
“If you think about hurricane Sandy, I talked to the lieutenant governor and she told me she was in a room with no windows and had no situational awareness. She came to Cape May and saw us fly and she was shocked that we could downlink a video signal to her and show her every inch of the coastline,” Joseph Sheairs from Stockton University said.
“One of the examples that Rowan is doing right now is helping the Department of Community Affairs to do rapid flood assessments. And the other work is with the New Jersey American Water where we are using drones for underground leak detection,” Dr. Rouzbeh Nazari from Rowan University said.
There are just a handful of federal test sites across the country. New Jersey is home to one.
“You have access to the ocean, you have access to agricultural areas in South Jersey, a quick hop up and you’re in Atlantic City so you can do experiments in urban systems,” Sebastien said.
“There are things the government, local or state or federal, they can’t do on their own, so universities are able to help out,” said Hady Salloum, Stevens Institute of Technology Associate Dean for Research
New Jersey’s state schools formed an unofficial university consortium in 2013. They have been meeting since to offer updates on their work.
“It’s important for our universities to get out in front and actually be the leaders in this industry because we’ll be the ones that everyone’s coming to in order to build off of and create jobs,” Senate President Steve Sweeney said. “And for kids come to school and learn this industry. So for us we’re very excited about this.”
“It’s been a long time, I don’t want to tell you how old I am, but it’s been a very long time — almost since the space age — before there was stuff in the news and accessible to kids that made them excited about science and technology. Now they have the ability not to just watch something going into orbit like I did, they have the ability to build stuff and to fly these things. It creates a whole new excitement about why you would want to study math, chemistry and physics,” said Sebastien.
Educators and legislators are hoping to harness that excitement and make the Garden State a hub for this fast emerging technology.