The CIDER Pilot Training Program helps students reach new heights in drone research and industry.

On a warm, unseasonable day in early February, a group of students and faculty members launch a drone over the meadows of the University of California, Santa Cruz, one of the few places in the world where the endangered Ohlone Hanmyo lives. Did. This group used drones to better understand the areas of habitat that species prefer and to determine the best ways to protect them, mapping subtle differences in the field’s terrain.

This field survey UCSC CITRIS Initiative for Drone Education and Research (CIDER), It aims to support drone research and industry and develop a diverse drone workforce. CIDER launched this new program with a cohort of 18 undergraduate students of various academic interests who met twice a week for classroom and field instruction on drones.

“The CIDER Pilot Training Program is a great way to provide students with valuable training and skills in the real world and really enjoy the learning process,” said Becca Fenwick, Director of CIDER. “The use of drones is so diverse that everyone can enjoy engineering challenges, marine conservation applications, video recordings, etc. We call them aerial Swiss Army knives. . “

The CIDER program aims to reduce the barriers to entry for drone research and industry by providing access to expensive drone hardware and the opportunity to gain flight time. Many of the students in the first cohort came from a poor background of services prioritized by the CIDER program. This includes students with proven financial needs and students in communities that are underestimated by STEM.

In the 10-week program, student training included working with drone hardware, drone technology applications, and training with drone software such as GIS and other data processing tools. Students in the Pilot Training Program can also train and test to obtain the FAA Part 107 license. This will allow the CIDER program to cover test fees and become a legally licensed commercial drone pilot.

Isabella Garfield, a sophomore in marine biology, said she was measuring the terrain of Ohlone’s Hanmyo as one of her favorite parts of the pilot training program. Her experience and the whole program made her even more interested in developing her drone technology expertise and opening up her niche in her field. She wants to harness the skills she learned as an intern at UCSC’s Beltran Lab. Efforts are underway to count and measure elephant seal populations using drone technology.

“Being certified as a drone and having a background from the CIDER program ensured that we had the tools to open additional options if we wanted to embed them. [drones into a future job]”Garfield said. “I can see it happening.”

In this way, pilot training programs serve as a potential route for students to engage in complex scientific research using drones. Four students from this year’s cohort are working at campus laboratories, and another is the UCSC Global Future Institute Frontier Fellow Program, which will fund interdisciplinary environmental research this summer. I am participating in.

Students can also build flight times during the program and through paid contract work on campus, and use drones to perform tasks such as building inspections, event photography and video recording. In the future, students will be able to use their skills to support research flights for faculty and conduct environmental surveys for external partners.

These paid experiences help students prepare to use the drone in an industry environment. Two students from the cohort are CIDER industry partners who pay internships and work for companies that use drone technology for agricultural and wildfire applications.Two more students received full-time jobs at industry partners Skydio designs and sells drones.

Matthew Bennett, a fifth-year robotics graduate, recognizes the achievements of the CIDER program with both technical knowledge and field experience of drones to succeed in his job as a flight test operator at Skydio. He states that learning how the drone reacts to real-world situations, like a fierce winter day in Santa Claus, helped prepare questions during the interview process.

“I have a book job-make sure you know all the difficult facts,” Bennett said. “But skipping that experience is something else that helps build confidence.”

In the future, both Bennett and Garfield hope that CIDER will continue to grow and serve more students who may face barriers to entry into drone research and industry.The pilot training program will run again in the fall of 2022 – visit This link For more information.

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