Hispanic-Serving Institution Leads Way in State’s “Drone” Research Proposal

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas— Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, a federally recognized Hispanic-serving institution, has taken the lead position in a statewide effort to become a test site for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly called drones.

“The history of Hispanic achievement in America began more than 500 years ago when Juan Ponce de Leon stepped onto the shores of the new world, exploring Florida and Puerto Rico,” said Dr. Luis Cifuentes, Vice President of Research, Commercialization and Outreach.  “Now we are taking flight into a new world that promises to be the future of aviation.”

The University’s Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Initiative, and its 6,000 square miles of available airspace, is in competition to be named one of six Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) UAS test sites. A&M-Corpus Christi and Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station have collaborated with private-sector partner Camber Corporation to form a statewide team of research institutions and private-sector companies to produce a competitive proposal to the FAA.  The proposal led by A&M-Corpus Christi is supported by the governor’s office and is the only one led by an institution recognized as a leader in Hispanic education.

“The Island University has an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math fields, an area where Hispanics historically have been under-represented,” said Nelda Martinez, Mayor of Corpus Christi.  “Supporting the University’s FAA proposal not only makes good financial sense for our city, it will also help attract and retain talented and bright students in South Texas to live and work.”

The Association of Unmanned Vehicles International published an economic impact study in March projecting, once airspace is opened to UAV’s, the economic impact on the state of Texas alone would be around $8 billion over the next 10 years. The impact would be centered in South Texas, which is a predominantly Hispanic region of Texas that historically has been underserved educationally and economically.

“This trend is slowly changing with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi leading the way for the community to reap the benefits of higher education, scientific research, industrial development and socio-economic growth,” said Cifuentes.

Two prominent leaders in the University UAS program already serve as examples of Hispanic leadership in the sciences.  Dr. Cifuentes, who is also a member of the Corpus Christi Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Dr. Luis Garcia Carrillo who is the Director of the Unmanned Systems Laboratory at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.  This year, the University was named by the Peace Corps as one of the top 10 volunteer producing Hispanic Serving Institutions in the nation.  The University with nearly 11,000 students, more than 40 percent of whom are of Hispanic heritage, was also recognized as one of the most popular U.S. colleges for Hispanic students, and ranked as a top college for Hispanics by Higher Education Magazine.

The FAA is expected to announce its decision in December, after which the six test sites will have six months to begin operating at full speed.  In preparation, the University has opened its UAS Command and Control Center and the A&M Board of Regents has approved the establishment of the Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence and Innovation.   Dr. Luis Cifuentes says even if Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi isn’t chosen as one of the sites the University will continue with its industry leading research.

“We still have airspace that everyone else is going to want, and we will partner with anybody who wants to use it,” said Cifuentes.  “I see this type of innovative research as the ‘new age’ for Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.”




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