CEHC Students Demonstrate Drones, Robotics Through Emerging Tech Course

CEHC students Jay Parker and Hadley Santos control drones and robotics in the pop up tent at ETEC.
Jay Parker (left) and Hadley Santos are among the students operating CEHC's drone pop-up tent this semester. (Photo by Mike Nolan)

By Mike Nolan

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 25, 2023) – A group of undergraduate students at the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity (CEHC) recently put their drones and robotics skills on public display.

The students, part of CEHC instructor Frank Peris’ Courses in Informatics (CINF) 467: Tech-Based Community Support class, were featured during the Spring 2023 Falconer Lecture series at the ETEC research and development complex earlier this month.

Hosted by the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center, the Falconer Lecture Series is the University at Albany’s longest-running public science lecture series. It is usually offered twice a year and features academics and practitioners, across all disciplines, who are engaged in societally interesting and beneficial projects of our day. 

The April 11 Falconer lecture, led by Meghan Conway of TruWeather Solutions, focused on weather and drones, including how TruWeather is partnering with UAlbany’s Center of Excellence in Weather and Climate Analytics to develop new solutions and services that leverage improved drone weather monitoring and forecasting capabilities.

Fittingly, CINF 467 students brought a pop-up tent to the event, providing live drone and robotics demonstrations for attendees prior to the lecture. The pop-up will be on display again on Thursday, for the University's inaugural Showcase Day.

“This course is teaching students about the real-world applications of drones and robotics,” said Peris, who works full time as a patrol officer and drone pilot for the Colonie Police Department. “There was nothing like this when I was in school, so it’s exciting to have our students interact with these emerging technologies.”

Drone Learning

The three-credit, CINF 467 course includes a mix of traditional lectures, sessions in CEHC labs, and both on- and off-campus events where students engage with drones, robotics and simulators. 

Among the course requirements, students must work on-site as interns at the CEHC Drone Lab. The 1,700-square-foot testing grounds, located in the basement of Page Hall on the Downtown Campus, offer a controlled indoor environment for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flight training, along with land-based robotics research. 

“While drones are commonly used for photography, they also have many other practical uses including public safety, search and rescue, agriculture, health care, shipping and delivery, weather forecasting, and much more,” Peris said. “These students are learning skills that they can apply to their future careers.”

The CINF 467 students also operate the drone pop-up tent, which is equipped with several DJI Mini SE drones, a DJI Robomaster and Sphero STEM robots, at CEHC events, including open houses for prospective students.

Between their Drone Lab internship and pop-up tent events, students in the course must complete a total of 120 service hours to receive credit.

Careers Take Flight

Justin (Jay) Parker is a senior informatics major and among the first cohort of CINF 467 students taught by Peris. He completed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 107 drone license test this month and will be heading to the Bronx after graduation, working with a private investor to do agriculture and farming drone work. 

CEHC Lecturer Frank Peris stands with students Jay Parker and Hadley Santos in front of a poster board presentation at ETEC.
Frank Peris (left) stands with CEHC students Jay Parker and Hadley Santos in front of a class poster board presentation.

“I was a probationary firefighter in high school. We learned in Professor Peris’s class how drones can be used for thermal imaging to find heat spots and save human lives,” Parker said. “This class, especially the hands-on opportunities with the tech, has been a really cool experience.”

Hadley Santos, a junior informatics major, is also a CINF 467 student. He will be interning at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida this summer, the nation’s only university specializing in every aspect of aviation and aerospace fields.   

“As Jay said, one of the main things we’re learning in class is that drones are not only for show, they’re also making a real impact on society,” Santos said. “I’m looking forward to taking the skills and knowledge I gained this semester and venturing out to diversify them a bit this summer.”

Showcasing Emerging Tech

CEHC’s drone pop-up tent will return to ETEC for UAlbany’s inaugural Showcase Day this Thursday, April 27.

Showcase Day will bring together the entire University community to highlight the academic excellence of UAlbany students through their research, scholarship, creative activities and experiential learning. Events will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. around campus, including ETEC.

The showcase will include:

  • Poster presentations
  • Research talks
  • Art exhibitions
  • Student performances

Along with operating the pop-up tent, students in CINF 467 will also present final projects on an industry that drones or robotics are currently being utilized, including the economic impact and benefits of the technology.