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September 20, 2013
By Mike Wolterbeek
Robotics, computer science and mechanical design are being combined as the University of Nevada, Reno establishes a new engineering course of study that will contribute to the economic growth of the region and spearhead the effort for an interdisciplinary center for unmanned autonomous systems - high-tech intelligent machines capable of traveling by air, land or sea without a human crew on board.
While University researchers, professors and students have been involved with the science and engineering of autonomous systems for some time, the College of Engineering has just been given the green light to begin offering an Unmanned Autonomous Systems minor degree.
"The opportunities this program brings to student education and competitiveness are exciting," Manos Maragakis, dean of the College of Engineering, said. "Such a program will be instrumental in enhancing the state's ability to increase its workforce in an area that has been strategically identified as one of its economic development priorities."
The emerging UAS industry requires highly educated individuals who understand the fundamentals of design, engineering, operation, and interpreting related data. To this end, the objective of the University's interdisciplinary UAS minor is to provide students with skills and experiences that will help them better apply the knowledge gained in their majors to specialized problems in the field of autonomous systems.
"The goal of the University is to provide unique training and workforce development opportunities for our students to help them tackle emerging challenges in the UAS industry," said Kam Leang, a mechanical engineering faculty member who has been researching and developing UAS design. "With this in mind, our new minor is open to students majoring in mechanical, electrical, and computer science and engineering. Classes will include robotics, control systems, sensing and instrumentation, fluid and air dynamics, computer vision and artificial intelligence - subject material that UAS employers would want graduates to know."
About a dozen professors will be teaching courses that will be a part of the curriculum for the new minor, which will require 18 credits of coursework. No new courses will be added; rather, the minor organizes about 25 existing courses from which students will design a plan of study and submit the plan for approval by an advisor from their major program, as well as the UAS minor program.
"Some courses have labs," Leang said. "My colleagues and I plan to create a special topics course which will have a few lab activities and an open-ended design project. The plan is to expand the course list as we continue to grow our expertise in this exciting area of study."
"There's been tremendous interest already, it's unbelievable," Indira Chatterjee, associate dean of the College of Engineering, said. "There's a fascination for things that fly or move about without a pilot, and it's in the news. Expanding civilian applications is an attractive field. We can see that a UAS could go into the heart of a storm or a spreading wildfire to monitor threats to human lives and property, or travel through remote areas to gather environmental data. Other applications we see are mapping and data collection, hazardous waste inspection, search and rescue and entertainment."
For information about the University's College of Engineering, visit www.unr.edu/engineering. For information on the minor degree visit http://www.unr.edu/engineering/academics/degree-programs/uas/uas-minor.