According to market analysts, the unmanned autonomous vehicle market (UAV, but also aka Drones) is estimated to exceed $100-plus billion in the near future. Demand is coming from the commercial and civil government sectors, as well as in construction, agriculture, and insurance, among others. For education, this presents an equally large opportunity — to prepare students for technical work involving drones.
At MatEdU, being a well-known resource for materials and materials education, we have been keenly watching technician education strive to keep up with these market forecasts.
The Use of Composite Materials in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
As most MatEdU News readers know, drones are smaller than traditional aircraft and that brings a limited “fuel” capacity (lithium-ion batteries, in most) limiting flight time. Add a payload (as Amazon, or the military want to do) or equipment such as a camera or 3D scanning sensors and you shrink that flight time dramatically. With that in mind, composite materials and exploring new ways of creating lighter materials becomes paramount to market growth and student opportunities as technicians, researchers, and operators.
Composite materials take on an important, arguably a pivotal role, in making a drone. This is part of the reason why MatEdU has partnered with the National Center for Autonomous Technologies (NCAT) housed at Northland Community and Technical College as the nation’s first accredited UAS Maintenance program.
“Studying the Advanced Materials used in a drone’s composite structure is a key objective of the UAS maintenance certificate program. An alliance between NCAT and MatEdU is a natural fit as students working with drones are going to need to understand how to repair and care for the structural elements of a UAV,” Mel Cossette, principal investigator of MatEdU, said. Cossette is also a Master Mentor in the Mentor-Connect project that mentored Jonathan Beck, principal investigator of the center as he and the NCAT team worked toward their most recent and successful NSF ATE grant.
Materials Science Impacts The Entire Drone
If you were wondering how materials science and drones come together, consider that almost every part of the drone can be improved by deeper understanding of materials. For instance:
- The frame itself holds everything together. It needs to be strong and light. Composites and potential jobs are discussed in the recent Materials Education News post on “What Is Materials Science?.”
- Motors & propellers: lifting off with durable, tough propellers.
- Batteries: the power to fly (read the post on JCDREAM and its efforts to find more sustainable materials for batteries of the future.)
- Sensors: the drone’s nervous system
- Microcontrollers and cameras: smarter drones
As the unmanned autonomous vehicle market grows, so does the need for skilled technicians. The NCAT/MatEdU alliance will be leading out in that marketplace to help students around the nation prepare for the opportunity.
To learn more about Mentor-Connect, visit their website or read this ATE Impacts article, Center Builds on ATE Collaborations for Cross-Discipline Autonomous Vehicle Technicians, that includes information about Jonathan Beck’s experience working with the organization and Mel Cossette.
If you are interested in learning more about What Materials Are Drones Made Of?, you can click through to an in-depth materials science educational handbook that provides an in-depth guide to carbon fiber and many other materials. Or browse all of the MatEdU Modules that offer guidance on Composite Materials.