Mississippi State University

FAA awards $3.3 million to 7 American universities

A slew of American universities just received a combined $3.3 million to advance their drone research.

The bulk of the funding is going to Mississippi State University, one of two lead universities receiving the grants, as well as one of the two receiving more than $1 million. Mississippi State University received $1.2 million, while University of Alabama–Huntsville received the second most at $1.1 million. The other five universities received less than $250,000.

The announcement was made this month by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao as part of a series of research, education and training grants doled out to universities participating in the FAA’s Air Transportation Center of Excellence for UAS, which is also referred to as the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE).

Here are all the schools receiving money to study drone use for disaster preparedness and response:

  • Mississippi State University –lead university: $1,290,410
  • University of Alabama–Huntsville –lead university: $1,101,000
  • New Mexico State University: $234,000
  • University of Alaska, Fairbanks: $245,000
  • Mississippi State University: $130,000
  • North Carolina State University: $124,979
  • Oregon State University: $165,000

The money is designed to “develop a greater array of innovative strategies to more effectively deploy drones during emergency response situations,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao in a prepared statement. in particular, the schools are studying how drones can aid in disaster preparedness and response to different natural and human-made disasters, with a focus on studying how best to coordinate with the Department of Interior, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other federal, local and state organizations during those emergencies.

Drones have long been a tool particularly for private companies in disaster response. Aerovironment has used drones in the wake of fire damage, while Verizon has used drones for search and rescue in the wake of natural disasters, among just a few examples. Even coronavirus has brought about a number of uses for drones in terms of emergency response.

The idea behind FAA doling out the money to schools: universities can research drone use for emergency response situations. They get funding, but ultimately their research is used by the FAA, freeing up the FAA to focus on other projects.

This is actually the second round of ASSURE grants. With the $3.3 million announced this month, total funding for the 2020 fiscal year for this project has hit $5.8 million.

The FAA estimates that 1.65 million drones — both recreational and commercial — are active, and predicts there could be 2.31 million drones by 2024. And even that estimate could be low. By some estimates, there are already nearly 10 million drones in America by now.

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