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Drone Pilot School Takes Off


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Drones are increasingly becoming an accepted part of construction and infrastructure projects. Nowadays, they are deployed in a variety of industries, ranging from architecture to engineering, and require the services and knowledge of specialist multi-rotor (drone) operators. Recognising the growth in this industry RMIT, in collaboration with Flight Data Systems, has become the first Australian University to provide a micro-qualification for all its students, as well as offering the 12-week course as a stand-alone qualification for those outside the university.

Dr Graham Wild, RMIT’s Post Graduate Program Manager and Senior Lecturer, Aviation, spoke with Jobsite about the micro-qualification and its advantages for graduates and employers.

“What makes RMIT different is that we are the first university to offer this in-course program to our students. Therefore, they can leave with a degree and this micro-qualification, which ordinarily would be something an employer might pay for,” says Dr Wild.

“The qualification means our graduates can start work straight away, which is a competitive advantage for them and an economic advantage for their new employer,” he says.

While the course is primarily aimed at aviation and aerospace engineering students, it is open to all students at RMIT and doesn’t preclude outsiders undertaking the 12-week program as a single course. It teaches the practical elements of flying a drone, along with the operational and legal requirements.

The university has had many requests across the construction industry for drone deployment by RMIT. 

“Our unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) pilot course is essentially a cloned version of our manned aviation course, with ‘ground school’ and ‘flight school’ components. Given unmanned multi-rotors are relatively homogenous across the industry and fly similarly, our graduates are ready to operate lighter multi-rotors at the end of the course.”

The university has had many requests across the construction industry for drone deployment by RMIT. 

“We have had increasing numbers of construction requests, but generally we like to focus on research,” Dr. Wild says. Occasionally, we will do some of the more exciting projects, such as high-rise wind measurements with drones, which traditionally used to be done with weather balloons.”

Drones can come equipped with GPS and measurement capabilities, and they come in handy when surveying sites and doing 3D terrain mapping. In fact, companies, such as Komatsu, have already begun using them regularly to reduce time.

Across construction and infrastructure projects, drones are more and more often replacing traditional land surveillance techniques, according to a March 2016 report from Goldman Sachs, primarily, in surveying and mapping construction sites. The report valued the total global spending on drones in the commercial market will be $100 billion by 2020. Of that, more than 10 per cent, or about $11.2 billion will be generated by the construction industry.

 The total global spending on drones in the commercial market will be $100 billion by 2020.

Drones theoretically can be deployed across the whole life cycle of a construction or infrastructure project, creating numerous employment opportunities for a qualified pilot. Just some areas we already see drones include:

Initial Bidding and Investigation Phase - Aerial surveys, data collection, modelling for feasibility studies, architectural modelling - allowing clients to get a feel for the final project.

Design - Drone footage can be used to measure terrain for project design or augmented reality applications, placing virtual models of the project in their environmental context.

Construction - project management and progress footage, monitoring health and safety issues, geospatial measurements, engineering calculations.

Handover and Maintenance - not only can drones give an overview of the finished project, but they can also be employed for ongoing maintenance and facilities management, especially when it comes to hard to reach places, such as external high-rise inspections or full-length pipelines. 

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