Oklahoma aerospace engineers are making significant strides in the field of drone technology and advanced air mobility, as they testified before a U.S. House high tech committee on March 23rd. Led by Jamey Jacob, the executive director of the Oklahoma Aerospace Institute for Research and Education at Oklahoma State University, the team highlighted the state’s achievements in leveraging drone technology in collaboration with Native American tribes, as well as the importance of public-private partnerships and government funding in advancing this emerging technology.
Oklahoma State University has been at the forefront of incorporating aerial robotics into various sectors, including agriculture, energy, environmental, and national defense. Jacob explained to the committee how the university has used drone technology to spur interest in aerospace and other STEM careers, particularly through K-through-12 outreach programs for underrepresented minorities, including urban areas and tribal nations within the state. Programs within the Choctaw, Cherokee, and Osage nations of Oklahoma have provided new opportunities for these sovereign nations to utilize drone technology in supporting their tribal members and developing new entrepreneurial activities within their borders, while also serving their federal customers.
Public-private partnerships have been crucial in advancing drone technology in Oklahoma, with government funding playing a vital role in pushing drone technology from laboratories to end-user adoption, as well as supporting programs and initiatives that use drones. Jacob emphasized the importance of collaboration between academia, industry, and government in developing and implementing drone technology solutions. He also highlighted the university’s latest innovation, the LaunchPad Center of Advanced Air Mobility, which aims to support small-business innovation and provide unique flight-testing solutions for drone technology development.
Sean Casey, chief research and development engineer at Tulsa’s AirWise Solutions Inc., also testified, drawing attention to the global landscape of drone technology. He mentioned the war in Ukraine, where drones have emerged as a force multiplier, and the advanced technology being developed in China. Casey stressed the importance of the United States continuing to invest in drone technology and advanced air mobility to maintain its position as a leader in the aerospace industry. He expressed his belief that American small businesses embody the need for U.S. manufacturing development and the entrepreneurial spirit of the proposed bill.
Representatives from NASA and the Commercial Drone Alliance also testified at the hearing, highlighting the need for the United States to stay at the forefront of drone technology. They emphasized the potential benefits of drone technology in job creation, weather forecasting, and the economy, as well as in areas such as health care and national security. They also highlighted the advancements being made in other countries, underscoring the need for the U.S. to remain competitive in the aerospace industry.
U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice from Oklahoma City asked about the U.S.’s standing in advanced manufacturing of unmanned aircraft systems compared to other nations. Jacob responded by stating that the U.S. is still at the forefront in terms of not just manufacturing, but also research and development of autonomous systems, avionics, controllers, fly algorithms, and artificial intelligence for broader applications. He highlighted the innovative work being done in Oklahoma and other parts of the country to advance drone technology.
Witnesses at the hearing emphasized the need for collaboration between Congress, the federal government, and the advancing technology to ensure that the United States remains a global leader in aviation. They expressed their belief that the introduction of new technology, such as autonomy and electrification, is ushering in a new golden age of aviation, with tremendous potential for impact on aerial transportation for travel and commerce.
In conclusion, Oklahoma is taking the lead in drone technology and advanced air mobility, with its aerospace engineers showcasing their achievements in leveraging drone technology for various applications and collaborating with Native American tribes. Public-private partnerships and government funding have been crucial in advancing drone technology in the state, with Oklahoma State University.