Civilian drones get a research center as FAA faces political pressure

April 9, 2014
The fast growing importance (and prevelance) of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is reflected in the recent announcement by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration that a new research center will be established within the year.
Conard 720

The fast growing importance (and prevelance) of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is reflected in the recent announcement by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration that a new research center will be established within the year. The location will be determined by a competition and consist of representatives from government, academia, and industry. This Center of Excellence (COE) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems will conduct unmanned aircraft research, education, and training.

Related article: FAA to establish center of excellence to conduct research into unmanned aircraft issues

The new COE fits within the FAA's UAS Integration Roadmap and could be an opportunity for photonics companies since technologies such as airborne imaging sensors, lidar, and other optical systems are critical technologies carried aboard UASs of all sizes and applications.

Related article: U.S. FAA releases Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Roadmap

Related article: Meeting the design challenges for imaging payloads on small UAVs

Related article: Rigors of unmanned aerial vehicles challenge vision technology

Meanwhile, lobbying groups and individuals are increasing the pressure on the FAA to speed up its review and to find ways quickly to authorize the use of small, commercial drones in civilian airspace. The petitioners range from farmers and real estate agencies to search-and-rescue operations.

Related article: FAA Unswayed by Do-Good Drones--Missing-Persons Search Group Fights Agency Order to Stop Using Unmanned Aircraft (Wall Street Journal)

Related article: Realtors and soybean farmers agree: Drone rules are overdue (The Washington Post)

As for military UASs, a market report from Frost & Sullivan says that, as U.S. Department of Defense budgets for UASs decline, domestic UAS manufacturers must exploit opportunities in foreign military and the global commercial UAS market to stay afloat. The study notes that the market earned revenue of $4.97 billion in 2013 and estimates this to reach $6.53 billion in 2018. A large part of this increase is due to research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funding for long range strike bombers. If budget constraints hit RDT&E funding, more reasonable revenue projections for 2018 represent an overall decreasing market at $3.7-4 billion.

The report says future tactical and larger UASs will need defensive features and integration capabilities with manned systems, and platforms that can reliably deliver payloads over greater ranges and for longer periods will also be favored. Electronic warfare, cargo transport, atmospheric satellites, and identifying intercontinental ballistic missile launches in boost phase are other emerging uses of UASs.

Finally, this quote from the report circles back to the emerging civilian market for drones: “Large defense contractors like Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin will likely acquire and/or partner with technologically-advanced small businesses to enhance their capabilities in the face of reducing market potential. These acquisitions will help firms widen their profit margins as well as compete in the nascent civil UAS market.”

About the Author

Conard Holton | Editor at Large

Conard Holton has 25 years of science and technology editing and writing experience. He was formerly a staff member and consultant for government agencies such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and engineering companies such as Bechtel. He joined Laser Focus World in 1997 as senior editor, becoming editor in chief of WDM Solutions, which he founded in 1999. In 2003 he joined Vision Systems Design as editor in chief, while continuing as contributing editor at Laser Focus World. Conard became editor in chief of Laser Focus World in August 2011, a role in which he served through August 2018. He then served as Editor at Large for Laser Focus World and Co-Chair of the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar from August 2018 through January 2022. He received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, with additional studies at the Colorado School of Mines and Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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