Innovator’s Notebook: A New Approach to Unmanned Systems Engineering Education

Editor’s note: This entry is a guest post from Dr (Col Ret) Jerry LeMieux, President, Unmanned Vehicle University, I had the privilege the other day of talking to Jerry about his vision, and I was struck by the number of innovations in scope, delivery, faculty, and approach of

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Unmanned Vehicle University, especially as a vehicle for graduate education delivery. The Innovator’s Notebook solicits stories of educational innovation of possible interest to readers of the Big Beacon blog. Send your ideas (short paragraph) or submissions (350-700 words) to Dave Goldberg (


Most have heard about unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones, being used in the military. Lately, UAS have been used numerous times in civil applications including police work, fighting fires, atmospheric research and customs and border patrol. Unmanned vehicles are not limited just to the air environment, but also include land, sea and space environments (e.g., unmanned ground vehicles, unmanned sea vehicles). Commercialization of these vehicles, especially UAS is on the horizon. Over 70 countries are creating 750 different types of designs of UAS where commercial operation is allowed. The USA is taking a slower approach to integrate UAS into the National Airspace.

Unmanned systems are growing in popularity and many schools are trying to integrate this new career field into their curriculums. Many are latching onto the glamor of being a pilot and have started UAS Operations Degrees at the Undergraduate level hoping to graduate a small UAS pilot with over 100 hours of flying time. Others have added a few robotics courses to their graduate programs and changed the titles of their degrees to include the popular unmanned systems terminology (e.g. aeronautical engineering degree with an option for unmanned systems).

Extreme Differentiation

What if you could build an online University from scratch that focuses on education and training in unmanned systems. Not only that, instead of focusing on the operational aspect, focus on engineering. Engineers will be needed to design, develop, integrate, test and sustain these vehicles. To build an unmanned system curriculum it is important that that the engineers that design these vehicles have experience in aeronautical, aerospace, mechanical, electrical and human factors engineering. A mechatronics (i.e. mechanical and electrical) curriculum is a good example of how to integrate more than one branch. In addition, these vehicles are very complex in terms of technology and a systems engineering approach is needed to ensure the vehicles are built efficiently and safely. An unmanned systems engineering curriculum needs to include applied technology courses from different engineering disciplines, depending on the type of vehicle, (i.e. aerodynamics for UAVs and robotics for unmanned ground vehicles) and systems engineering and project management courses. Graduates will then be able to obtain high paying jobs as program/project managers, systems engineers and researchers.

Four Steps to Creating a New University

Start from a student’s perspective. The first step in creating an engineering curriculum could be to view it from the students perspective. The course content needs to be interesting and directly applicable to the work that will be performed in a future job.

Recruit world-class expert faculty. Second, recruit the world experts in the unmanned systems field. After all, the faculty is what makes one school stand out over another. Don’t accept anyone into the faculty unless they have a PhD in engineering and tons of experience. These people exist, but are difficult to find so use the social media ( is highly recommended) extensively in your recruiting efforts. Expand your thinking to include the world and you can have students and instructors from many countries.

Keep content real worldly, relevant, and applicable. Third, the content needs to hold the students interest. Include lectures from the instructors experience, technical papers (with the latest discoveries) and online videos. Read extensively about new research and applications and continuously integrate these into course content. For student evaluations choose problems, paper projects and take home evaluations. Try to get students to use a paper format that corresponds to some industry standard (e.g., IEEE) to improve their writing skills and so they can publish their research. Hold a web conference at least once a week to clarify assignments and do examples (a pen tablet will allow you to do problems on a desktop workspace that can be shared). Fourth, create an extensive online library that focuses on the courses that are part of the curriculum. Hold a contest for best paper with the winner to be published in the library.

Set a realistic business model and competitive pricing. Lastly is the pricing model. By having part-time instructors external from a brick and mortar campus a significant cost savings can be realized. Keep the course costs affordable and they will be very competitive. For a global pricing model, realize that incomes other countries, including South America and India are very low.

For more information about Unmanned Vehicle University click here or call +1-855-UXV-UNIV.

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