Success story: Early UAS adopters celebrate first decade
This fall NMC celebrates the ten-year anniversary of its Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) program, a foresighted curricular addition that has helped diversify northern Michigan’s economy.
In 2010, UAS, also known as drones, were chiefly a military tool. But Tony Sauerbrey, then NMC’s chief flight instructor, and others in the college’s traditional manned Aviation program spied opportunity ahead.
“We started looking at the future of aviation, all this drone technology coming along,” said Sauerbrey, now NMC UAS program manager (far right, above.) “It was a little ahead of its time.”
Years ahead, in fact. Three classes in 2010 grew into a degree with a UAS specialty by 2013. The FAA established its commercial license in 2016. Today, drones are used to inspect crop health and infrastructure integrity, photograph and sell real estate, conduct land surveys and monitor everything from shoreline erosion to invasive species. In the future, Amazon promises drone delivery to customer doorsteps within 30 minutes.
With that significant lead in training time and experience, NMC UAS students have a decided edge in the industry with nearly 200,000 license holders nationwide. (In fact, Amazon employs several.) In northwest Michigan, the industry is growing to occupy a larger niche.
“NMC is the epicenter of all of the robotic and drone companies in the area, with an emphasis on aerial applications,” said Christian Smith, president of Interactive Aerial, a Traverse City company founded by four NMC alumni.
Interactive Aerial is also the 2020 winner of the Emerging Business award sponsored by Traverse Connect, the region’s economic development organization. President and CEO Warren Call said the company exemplifies the organization's desire to diversify the economy away from traditional employers like tourism/hospitality and agriculture. Read more »
Innovation Center Ribbon Cutting
We can't wait for everyone to see it in person, but until then, join us virtually at 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 18 as we celebrate the opening of NMC's new West Hall Innovation Center. Read more »