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University promotes its new ‘drone lab’

Alex+Kavanagh%2C+founder+of+DRONEGEAR%2C+appears+on+camera+for+a+video+for+his+YouTube+channel.
Alex Kavanagh, founder of DRONEGEAR, appears on camera for a video for his YouTube channel.

Alex Kavanagh, founder of DRONEGEAR, appears on camera for a video for his YouTube channel.

Paulette Villicana

Paulette Villicana

Alex Kavanagh, founder of DRONEGEAR, appears on camera for a video for his YouTube channel.

by Paulette Villicana, Staff Writer

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San Diego State University opened a Center for Unmanned Systems Technologies — better known as the “drone lab” — in late August.

Director of Emergency Services Lamine Secka, who is also the drone lab’s coordinator, said the program started with a donation from Aztec Parents Advisory Board member Terry Parisher, who owns his own unmanned aircraft systems company.

“He was the one that made the initial donation that made it possible to get some of our initial equipment,” Secka said.

The drone lab’s purpose is to teach people how to properly and safely integrate drones into the airspace and help them do so correctly, legally and safely, said Kevin Powers, the program’s manager. It’s open to students and staff who are interested in learning about or getting involved with drones.

Although the drone lab is not a club or student organization, it focuses on student involvement and works with the geography, geology, film and homeland security programs at SDSU.

Powers said the drone lab has also been collaborating with SDSU head baseball coach Mark Martinez to film the university’s baseball team.

And it’s been helping SDSU Facility Services by mapping current and future construction sites, Secka said.

“I’ve used it with the Engineering and Interdisciplinary Sciences building to try to determine where we can put evacuation assembly points for fire alarms,” he said.

A long-term goal for the drone lab is to develop an undergraduate program in Unmanned Systems Technology, Secka said.

“It’s just an initial discussion phase at this point,” he said. “It’s probably going to be a multi-year process.”

Powers said he is starting to write a curriculum for students to take a drone class as an elective. He said the goal is to emulate North Dakota State University and Kansas State University, both of which offer a bachelor’s degree in Unmanned Aerial Systems.

“So we want to start with elective classes,” said Powers. “I have to write curriculum, for example, for a course that would cover basic safety, how to operate and how to get your license. And we will just keep expanding from there.”

Although Powers is the only person allowed to operate drones at SDSU at the moment, he collaborates with people like Alex Kavanagh, the founder and creative director of DRONEGEAR and a major influencer in the drone industry.

“Kevin reached out to me on social media and mentioned (the drone lab) to me because I’ve been doing tutorials and videos,” said Kavanagh. “I just automatically wanted to help and contribute with my expertise and get some eyes on the program.”

Kavanagh said he is donating an old custom-made drone to the SDSU drone lab.

“It’s where it all started and it’s good for students to be able to pull it apart and see first-hand, from scratch how it all works,” he said.

In an effort to promote the program, Secka said he plans for the drone lab to begin hosting open house events.

“We’re hoping to have a number of speaker series where we bring in industry experts from all kinds of different entities and just have them in a casual environment talk to students, talk to faculty, staff, whoever is interested about the lab,” Secka said.

Students and staff can visit the drone lab on the first floor of the Chemical Sciences Laboratory building, Powers said.

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