The Federal Aviation Administration has chosen a consortium that includes Oregon State University to take the lead on finding ways to integrate drones into mainstream aviation.

A number of other groups were in the running to be named the FAA Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, including one led by Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But the nod went to ASSURE, the Alliance for System Safety through Research Excellence, which is led by Mississippi State University and includes OSU and 13 other academic institutions. The FAA Center of Excellence designation comes with $5 million a year in federal research funding for five years, which the consortium’s members are expected to match.

Michael Wing, director of Oregon State’s Aerial Information Systems Lab and ASSURE’s principal investigator at OSU, said the group’s selection as a center of excellence should provide a significant boost for drone research at the university.

“This was a really good day for OSU,” he said. “It’s really good for our reputation and presence on the national stage.”

The selection comes a little over a year after the FAA picked a partnership involving OSU and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks to operate one of six drone test sites around the country.

Most of the other members of ASSURE have expertise in the realm of flight mechanics, Wing said, but what OSU brings to the table is a wealth of knowledge on how to use drones to gather data in the field. That includes mounting instruments on unmanned aerial vehicles, remote-controlled undersea gliders and even spacecraft, as well as analyzing the data captured by the sensors.

“The reason why we were invited to join the group is because of our remote sensing experience,” he said.

The group also has more than 100 corporate partners involved in the emerging unmanned aircraft systems industry, including VDOS Global, a Corvallis company that recently received the first FAA license to use drones for pipeline inspections, and Wing said he expected those numbers to rise.

“We’re going to have some growing national attention here, we’re going to have a growing number of flights sponsored by federal agencies, and we’re going to have opportunities to get their gear in the air for all to see,” he said.

Among the research areas the team is expected to work on are detection and avoidance technology; low-altitude operations safety; control and communications; compatibility with air traffic control operations; and training and certification of drone pilots.

“This world-class, public-private partnership will help us focus on the challenges and opportunities of this cutting-edge technology,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement announcing the selection. “We expect this team will help us to educate and train a cadre of unmanned aircraft professionals well into the future.”

In addition to OSU and Mississippi State, the other members of ASSURE are Drexel University, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Kansas State University, Kansas University, Montana State University, New Mexico State University, North Carolina State University, University of Alabama at Huntsville, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, University of North Dakota and Wichita State University.

Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net.

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Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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