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1/5/15 - Mississippi State's UAS expertise on display

A leading industry trade group spent two days in Mississippi last month, and a highlight of the visit was a survey mission led by Mississippi State researchers and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists.

"We were very pleased to help host the AUVSI team in our state," said David Shaw, the university's vice president for research and economic development.

Arlington, Va.-based AUVSI -- the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International -- is the world's largest non-profit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community in defense, civil and commercial sectors.

"We have a number of researchers at Mississippi State working on a wide spectrum of issues related to unmanned systems, including their design, manufacture, application and safe use," Shaw said.

On Dec. 18, that expertise was on display when representatives from AUVSI, the FAA, local economic development officials and media joined scientists for a briefing at the INFINITY Science Center in Hancock County followed by a boat ride into the lower Pearl River swamp to watch a UAV launch and recovery operation.

Led by Lee Hathcock, a scientist with the land-grant institution's Northern Gulf Institute, and Suzanne Van Cooten, hydrologist-in-charge at NOAA's Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, last week's mission deployed a UAV over the Pearl River State Wildlife Management Area near Slidell, Louisiana.

The university holds a certificate of authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate UAVs in the area, according to an MSU official.

"We are the only university in the state with FAA COAs," said NGI Director Robert Moorhead.

NOAA and MSU are mapping the water level under varying conditions and assisting with the development of a dynamic flood model for the area. The team is studying a number of factors, including how the river sediments move and how fallen timber and other river debris affects flow, among others, he said.

According to USAF Maj. Gen. (Ret.) James Poss, the Dec. 18 mission is an excellent example of Mississippi State's robust UAS capabilities.

"MSU is uniquely suited to provide research in cutting-edge unmanned aircraft systems," Poss, who now serves as director of MSU's Center for Battlefield Innovation, said.

The use of unmanned air systems in non-conflict situations is growing with applications well suited for natural disaster response, humanitarian relief efforts, environmental impact assessment and precision agriculture, he said.

Congress has charged the FAA with developing rules regulating commercial UAVs by 2015.

Poss and Mississippi State are leading a coalition of 18 top UAS universities from three countries and more than 80 government and industry partners called ASSURE -- the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence -- that is working for designation as an FAA "center of excellence."

As the FAA works to integrate unmanned systems into the nation's airspace, the center of excellence would provide the agency and industry with research to maximize the potential of commercial unmanned systems with minimal changes to the current system regulating manned aircraft.

A decision about ASSURE's status is expected early next year.

"Our state is well positioned to continue to play a significant role in unmanned aerial systems research and development, as well as manufacturing," Shaw said.

According to the AUVSI, the domestic UAS market is projected to create more than 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic impact in the first decade after FAA integration is complete. During the same period, the UAS industry could create more than 1,200 jobs and approximately $973 million in economic impact in Mississippi alone.

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Jim Laird | Public Affairs

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