If you mention the word “drone” in casual conversation, expect talk to turn to spying or the military. As I conducted research for this issue’s cover story and shared what I was learning, I encountered that reaction more than once.
So it’s not surprising that the makers of autonomous planes and associated products (motors, cameras, lightweight composite frames) prefer the awkward term “unmanned aerial systems” or UAS. They’re preparing for rapid growth in the market once the Federal Aviation Administration sets the rules for operating UAS in civilian air space in 2015.
Companies such as PARADIGM (AKA Paradigm isr) in Bend, VDOS in Corvallis and Aerosight Innovations in Clackamas are developing aerial systems in service to agriculture, natural resources, education, fire fighting and business. With due regard for regulations and privacy concerns, Oregon State researchers and students are in the thick of this creative enterprise.
UAS are hardly the first military technologies to find uses off the battlefield. We can thank the Department of Defense (DOD) for radar that guides air traffic, GPS on our mobile phones and, of course, the Internet.
A quick scan of current research under way in the DOD’s Defense Sciences Office turns up these gems:
• “Fracture putty,” a material that could be packed in and around compound fractures to spur bone healing and reduce rehabilitation time
• “REMIND” (Restorative Encoding Memory Integration Neural Device), a type of neural prosthesis that can assist with memory recovery
• “BOLT” (Broad Operational Language Translation), a real-time language translation device that could enable fluid conversation between speakers of different languages
At Oregon State, the DOD supports research on the oceans, human cognition, microbial fuel cells and micro air vehicles. While the military has a clear need for science to protect our security, the results may also appear in hospitals, on our phones and in our skies.