This article was originally published by the invaluable Generation Progress.
Last April, Cornell University found itself in the midst of a bit of controversy. A series of documents released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation showed that Cornell was one of a handful of educational institutions and a larger number of police stations with a certificate of authorization from the FAA to fly a drone. While a certificate of authorization (referred to simply as a COA by those enmeshed in the world of unmanned aviation systems) hasn’t been held by the university for a few years, they’re still quite involved in the development of drone technology.
The extracurricular group Cornell University Unmanned Air Systems (CUAir) “aims to provide students from all majors at Cornell with an opportunity to learn about unmanned air systems in a hands-on setting,” according to its website. CUAir took home first place at the Student Unmanned Air Systems Competition held at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland in June. The website for the group lists Lockheed-Martin and Electronic Warfare Associates as its platinum sponsors.
Unmanned aircraft systems have received a growing amount of media coverage in the context of their militarized uses in Pakistan and Afghanistan, yet general knowledge of the fact that unmanned systems for domestic uses have been growing is limited and they are poised to become integrated into general airspace as soon as September 2015.
Two pieces of federal legislation passed in January of last year: The Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 require the FAA to choose six national test sites for research centers for remotely piloted aircraft, and begin their integration into national airspace in 2015. Since the announcement, there has been a flurry of activity by the drone industry and research sectors to establish themselves as frontrunners in the contest to be approved for both the use and development of these systems.
A New York Times editorial explained what the legislative aim of developing these technologies is: “The drone go-ahead…envisions a $5 billion-plus industry of camera drones being used for all sorts of purposes from real estate advertising to crop dusting to environmental monitoring and police work.”
A variety of organizations have submitted applications to be chosen as one of the six test sites. According to Sen. Chuck Schumer (a big proponent of New York being chosen as one of them) out of fifty initial applications the list of applicants has been narrowed to twenty-five. The winners will receive a five-year contract with the FAA to conduct research. In New York State, that applicant is the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR). Made up of forty public, private and academic organizations, their research would potentially happen in many parts of New York and Massachusetts (probably mostly in existent military airspace) but would be focused in central New York. Alliance members include Lockheed-Martin, many of the existent upstate New York airports or military testing areas, as well as about a dozen academic institutions, according to Andrea Bianchi, program director of NUAIR, among them both SUNY Binghamton and Cornell University.