For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

Eyes in the Sky: Drexel Researcher Seeks to Establish Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems

October 23, 2012

Engineers at Drexel University were awarded a planning grant from the National Science Foundation and Industry partners to lay the ground work for establishing a new Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-UAS) at Drexel to investigate and develop next-generation UAS technologies.

If approved by the National Science Foundation,, the new C-UAS Drexel Site, will join existing sites at Brigham Young University and the University of Colorado-Boulder in advancing UAS technology and training for a new generation of engineers to function as leaders in the field. Dr. John Lacontora, an associate research professor with the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics, will head the site.

The National Science Foundation established the Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems project in order to encourage collaboration between universities and industry to investigate the major technical challenges that inhibit widespread use of UAS technologies. Lacontora hopes that leveraging Drexel’s existing UAV programs the new center will lead to major advances in current UAS capabilities.

While many people are familiar with the concept of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or UAV, an Unmanned Aircraft Systems refers to the entire command and control infrastructure necessary to perform a mission such as the aircraft itself, pilot’s operating station, ground support equipment and maintenance equipment.

Currently, UAS technologies are employed in military applications in Iraq and Afghanistan and in scientific study of hurricanes, wildfires and pollution. Since 2007, the Department of Defense has budgeted more than $20 billion dollars for UAS technology and projects to spend another $3.8 billion in 2013.

Traditional UAS research has focused primarily on military missions; however, significant opportunities exist in civil and commercial applications ranging from infrastructure inspection and border patrol to law enforcement and disaster recovery. Lacontora believes the development of this technology is crucial to national interests and significant advances in key areas are necessary in order to task UAS for more widespread use.

The C-UAS Drexel Site will complement the current capabilities of research conducted at BYU and UC-Boulder by advancing critical research areas: UAS health monitoring, UAV launch and recovery systems, pilot and support personnel training and performance support systems.  Drexel will also enhance BYU and UC-Boulder through the involvement of the Drexel Autonomous System Laboratory and partnerships with regional unmanned aircraft systems government and industry leaders. 

While the C-UAS Drexel Site is still initial development phase, the one-year $13,779 National Science Foundation planning grant will further Drexel’s existing UAV research and establish  research and hands-on learning opportunities for future UAS engineers. The project has attracted the interest and support many entities within the UAS community including Boeing, Navmar Applied Sciences Corporation, Naval Air System Command, the FAA Technical Center, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a host of others.

“Maintaining U.S. dominance in this vital technology will require solutions to significant challenges. The Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems will be the first university/industry research center in the United States focused on this fast growing field,” Lacontora said.  “We hope it will be a focal point for discovery and dissemination of information about UAS of all sizes.”

John Lacontora is an Associate Research Professor at Drexel University in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics. Lacontora is a retired US Army officer who served a majority of his military career in ground vehicle systems support and has held management and engineering positions at The Boeing Company, Booz Allen Hamilton and at the Janus Research Group. He received his Ph.D. in Information Systems and M.S. in Manufacturing Systems Engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Brian Nicholas
Public Relations and Recruitment Coordinator
Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics