A degree in drones (or, unmanned aircraft systems)

Maintenence personel prepare a Predator drone operated by U.S. Office of Air and Marine (OAM), before its surveillance flight near the Mexican border on March 7, 2013 from Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Ariz.

Ben Trapnell says, given the chance, “I absolutely believe that unmanned aircraft systems will have more money invested in them from a civil context than they ever did from a military context." Trapnell helped found and now teaches at the Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems at the University of North Dakota. The program offers -- essentially -- a degree in drones.

Trapnell says there’s been little development of what unmanned aircraft systems can do outside of law enforcement and first responders “so a lot of the students are working with civil contractors that are providing services for the military.”

Some of the program’s students finds jobs that pay them well out of college -- starting at $60,000 or $70,000 a year. He says many of the stereotypes around drones and what they’re used for are incorrect. Of his students, “not a single one of them has flown an armed unmanned aircraft” though they do work with military contractors, using drones to gather intelligence for troops on the ground.

Trapnell also objects to the use of the “d-word”:

“I think the term “drone” creates a lot of hate and discontent in people’s minds. They get afraid of it.”

As for a future with drones he says, “if it’s done in the right way, I would say that in the next five to 10 years, it’ll be become an everyday thing.” 

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the new host of Marketplace Weekend.
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What a Shame NPR! The best thing about this interview are the comments that have already been posted. Hopefully Marketplace and NPR will read some of them and apply a higher level of scrutiny to future stories - what a shame. This type of reporting belongs to MSNBC and Fox, not NPR.
Great job by the gentleman being interviewed - really kept his cool. I think Marketplace owes him an apology.
I half expected the phrase "whatever!" to follow the sarcastic "Hmm!"

Mercenaries? Really?
That was a really insulting and ignorant question.
Maybe you should look up what it means.
I am sure you think you are a very open minded person but that could not be father from the truth.

This was the least professional interview that I can ever remember hearing on Marketplace. If Marketplace can't find any decent hosts on a holiday weekend, please give us music instead. I would hope that a journalist would appreciate that responding to an answer with a disparaging "Hmm" is unprofessional and of no use to the audience (other than to make them aware of the poor quality of the interviewer). I don't have an opinion on Drones/UAV's, but after this report, I definitely have a negative opinon of Ms. O'Leary.

Dear Marketplace and NPR

Re: Marketplace, Thursday, May 23, 2013

Having been an avid listener and supporter of NPR and Market place for a number of years, I must state my disappointment over your coverage of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and the general quality of the reporting piece. Firstly, Lizzie O’Leary is a great reporter but having a reporter inject her own opinions into the piece detracts from the independent image of Marketplace and NPR.

As for the central story, your use of the “D” word only fuels the negative opinions of uninformed listeners. Using Drone in the context of military aircraft historically refers to an aircraft towed behind another or remotely controlled to be used for target practice. It was not meant as a descriptor for UAS. My research shows that the use of Drone as another term for UAS has been entirely initiated by the American media as an effort to thwart the legitimate use of UAS in national airspace.

Please allow me to site just one example of how UAS can help mankind and create a huge industry – precision agriculture. UAS combined with specialized sensors can be flown over a typical farm (usually larger than 5 miles by 5 miles) and pinpoint a plant disease while the disease is still in its beginning stages. With this pinpoint data, the area can be surgically treated.

The end result is a significantly greater crop yield, 99% smaller carbon footprint than using a manned aircraft, minimal environmental impact to the water table and much less expense for the farmer.

The above is just one of the many uses of UAS that can benefit our world. This same technology can be transferred to fruit producers, forestry management and many other agricultural uses. An array of engineering and construction system improvements also is available via the use of UAS.

Most of the above UAS missions can be performed with small aircraft in the 10 pound mass range. These traditionally are battery powered and are much like RC aircraft that have been flying in the national airspace (NAS) for the past 50 years.

I hope that NPR and Marketplace have not decided to lean toward slanted news opinions as demonstrated in this article.

What a disappointing interview. I would have liked to have heard what, exactly, they did in this program; ie. what was the curriculum, how did it apply to the current workplace market, what were the prospects for civilian applications -- you know, the sort of things that you expect when you're listening to 'Marketplace'. Instead, Ms. O'Leary jumps straight into a line of very presumptive interview questions that lent little to the conversation other than, perhaps, to promote her own agenda -- I understand if this professor was a notable or political figure (eg. the excellent Rumsfeld interview last week) -- I would even let it pass if this sort of questioning took place later in the interview, but really, let's get the fundamentals first before we start wringing him for answers concerning moral dilemmas. This is the sort of thing I expect from Fox News or CNN, but not Martketplace -- it appeared as though Ms. O'Leary was not only hardly prepared for the interview, but maybe even ignorant and self-righteous. Really disappointed, guys -- look forward to hearing Kai again.

All I heard was "attitude". Instead of a snapshot of a growing new industry I got an "editorial." Hmm.

An utterly horrid interview! Ms. O'Leary this was NOT an editorial! It was an interview. Your goal in an interview is to elicit responses that inform your audience NOT to periodically harrumph when YOU disagree with the person you are interviewing. I am incensed that marketplace allowed this drivel on their normally stellar show. WAKE-UP Marketplace!
I will say that you have a good voice for radio. Unlike so many young women today, who sound like small children, NOT woman who are attempting to, rather than entertain the audience, get solid INFORMATION.

@stacemetz...I completely agree. It was the most unprofessional interview I have heard on NPR/Marketplace. The man being interviewed was very gracious, despite how rude Ms. O'Leary was to him.

Ms. O'Leary, I can make my own decision on how I feel about drones. If I wanted a one sided view of the world, I would just watch Fox News.

Marketplace, I love you...you are better than this!

Really? High-tech mercenaries? Is that what we should call the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who go to work each day in our defense industry to provide the equipment required by our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines to accomplish their missions? Drones (UAVs) are just another tool in the toolbox, along with fighter aircraft, submarines and ships, land combat vehicles, satellites, precision guided weapons, etc. How and where any of these tools are used is a policy decision. Our defense industry deserves the best and the brightest. Any university should be proud to contribute educated graduates to our nation's defense contractors. Your interviewee should not have felt the need to justify or defend his school's program. Shame on you for making him feel he needed to, and shame on him for folding. Okay, I'm done. I'm a big fan of Marketplace. Keep up the good work!

On the contrary, I think the euphamisms "unmanned aerial vehicle" or "unmanned aircraft" actually create a lot of confusion in people's minds, and strain the meaning of the English language. The words "aircraft" and "vehicle" describe devices of transportation that carry human beings or other cargo - and these machines have nobody on board and nothing to do with transportation whatsoever.

"Drone" is and must remain the proper description for this phenomenon, as it more accurately describes the fact of what they are - a mechanized, autonomous and unthinking extensions of another's will. When we call it by another name, we ignore the significance of what we are dealing with, and downplay or disregard the implications of their widespread acceptance in our society.


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