The drone pilot program at Warren Community College is expanding its enrollment capacity.
The college will accept nearly 200 students next year, WCC President William Austin told lehighvalleylive.com. The increase follows a physical expansion that happened this year at the college’s Phillipsburg campus, which saw the department’s number of classrooms increase from one to 12.
“We used to do GIS (Geospatial Information Systems), Photogrammetry, maintenance and repair, building and teaching people how to fly all in one room. Now we’re able to have a dedicated lab for each of those things,” Austin said.
The new Dr. Joseph Warren Robotics Research Center is located inside the Phillipsburg Education Center at 445 Marshall St.; at the former headquarters of the Phillipsburg School District offices. Students seeking an associates’ degree in uncrewed systems, or drone technology, will now have most of their classes in the 15-room space, with 11 dedicated classrooms.
The former one-size-fits-all classroom, which is located in another part of the Phillipsburg Education Center, will continue to be used as an advanced robotics assembly lab, which will soon develop into its own degree in Artificial Intelligence, Austin said.
Next year, the school will also expand its degree to offer precision agriculture, which would include artificial intelligence training, use of drone sprayers, ground-based and underground monitoring systems and livestock health management using bluetooth technology, he said.
Amanda Moberg, a program graduate who now works on staff at the college, said the department’s expansion has fixed many issues that made completing assignments during her two years distracting or disruptive.
“Being able to spread out a bit more, we don’t feel like we’re on top of one another or invading someone else’s space. It’s nice to know that I can come in anytime that I want and go into the (Simulation) Lab, knowing that I won’t be creating a problem with someone else’s class or tying up a computer someone else is working on,” she said .
The WCC drone systems program officially launched in 2018. Last year, the department celebrated its first graduating class. It consisted of four students. Austin said enrollment last year showed the program has become more popular than he’d ever imagined it would be. He anticipates 20 students will graduate this year. Forty students enrolled this year, he said.
Aside from teaching students to use various mapping softwares and how to analyze photo images and read aviation maps, the program also offers practical experience piloting maritime, aviation, agricultural and land-based drones, like “Spot”, the department’s robotic dog. Students are then able to apply their knowledge to real-world situations in the spring, Uncrewed Systems Specialist Peter Miller said.
The program has already partnered with Liberty Township’s Mountain Lake Community Association to measure seasonal algal deposits at Mountain Lake; and also with Rutgers University to track crop disturbances caused by New Jersey’s bear population, Miller said.
“What happens is they go into the middle of a corn field, roll around and create what looks like a giant crop circle. It could ruin more than half of a farmer’s crop,” Miller said. “It’s fascinating.”
Students pilot each of the missions and conceptualize the data for clients, he said.
The expansion of the Dr. Joseph Warren Robotics Research Center was made possible by a grant from the Securing Our Children’s Future Fund, congressional funding secured by US Rep. Tom Malinowski and private donations, Austin said.
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Glenn Epps can be reached at [email protected] or glenn_epps_on Twitter.
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