San Antonio university flies high with launch of innovative drone lab

San Antonio university flies high with launch of innovative drone lab

St. Mary's University drone lab drone
St. Mary's latest science and engineering lab takes flight today. Courtesy of St. Mary's University

Local college students are buzzing about the newest laboratory opening at St. Mary’s University.

Opening Monday, March 22, the new $600,000 Unmanned Aerial Systems Lab — aka Drone Lab — will help St. Mary’s students tap into the growing drone industry, which is expected to spawn several hundred thousand jobs.

The 1,434-square-foot Drone Lab, located behind the Richter-Math Engineering Center at St. Mary’s, includes a flight area, where professors will be able to incorporate drones into their curriculum and students can conduct drone-related research.

Funded in part by a STEM education grant and foundation funding, the Drone Lab supports the university’s new Unmanned Aerial Systems concentration under the B.S. in Engineering Science program.

“The Federal Aviation Administration predicts the U.S. registered commercial drone fleet to climb to between 442,000 and 1.6 million units in the next few years, which will, in turn, create a few hundred thousand jobs,” says Winston Erevelles, dean of the School of Science, Engineering and Technology.

In addition to helping develop the next generation of drone-industry workers, the new Drone Lab will be able to host summer camps for high school students and will become home to a new Drone Club, which will be open to all St. Mary’s students.

“We have this amazing facility where students can not only learn, but also apply the knowledge that they are learning in their classroom,” says Dante Tezza, assistant professor of computer/software engineering, adding that lab space is already a hot commodity among students working on such projects as redesigning a quadcopter and developing parachutes for drones.

While the Drone Lab opens today, St. Mary’s notes some equipment is still needed. The school hopes to gather more funds for the lab through its 24-hour St. Mary’s Giving Day initiative, currently underway. With donations to the Drone Endowment Fund, the school will be able to add sensors to the Drone Lab, as well as make future equipment updates and add cutting-edge software for practical classroom instruction.