For the next two weeks Florida Panhandle Technical College has become home away from home to faculty members from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and PAEC personnel, who are providing Unmanned Systems STEM Summer Challenges to groups of middle and high school students from Walton, Holmes, Washington, Jackson, and Calhoun Counties. The event is provided at no cost to participating students through an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University partnership with the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium. Florida Panhandle Technical College, another project partner is providing space and technical support for the challenge activities.
This is an important opportunity for area students, because unmanned or autonomous systems are gaining in sophistication, use is expanding and the demand for new systems and operators is growing. Annually, the potential financial impact totals in the billions of dollars across military, commercial, personal, and technology sectors. Increased demand is a result of the benefit of using these systems in places where people cannot reach or are unable to perform in a timely and efficient manner. By using cameras, sensors, and computing capabilities, these systems can sense and navigate challenging terrain and provide information, so that human operators may understand the environment and take action to achieve a variety of missions. Some of the uses include examining agricultural crops, capturing more innovative shots for movies, getting closer to action for accurate news stories, highlighting real estate properties and mapping areas. Unmanned systems are also making their way onto roadways and in use to deliver packages, inspect bridges and oil platforms, for search and rescue missions, to monitor drug trafficking across borders, to conduct weather and environmental research, in disaster relief, firefighting, and by the military. Their use captured an international audience during the 2018 Winter Olympics when 1218 Shooting Star drones took to the skies to present an inspiring light show, as well as set a Guinness World Records title for the most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously.