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“The engineering department capstone team was developing the aircraft, a semi-autonomous fixed wing. And our job was to develop the software to communicate with the aircraft,” he explained.

After the project ended, Morgan still had one more semester to go, but he and three other computer science students got hired as research assistants by A&M–Corpus Christi’s iCORE Lab.

Tasked with software development for unmanned aircraft systems, the job put him in pole position to help with back end communications for the first test mission run at the Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Center. Since then, Morgan has participated in every test mission flown and has provided IT support.

Once he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science in December 2014, he got offered an internship with Camber Corp. and became a full-time software engineer in April 2015.

Engineering the Future in Corpus Christi Texas A&M–Corpus Christi’s mechanical engineering program is only about 5 years old. The Mechanical Engineering Department got its very first ABET-accreditation a year ago, and the faculty will open its Electrical Engineering degree program this fall.

Program expansion means hiring new faculty, said Dr. David Bridges, who taught aerospace engineering for 19 years at Mississippi State University before coming to A&M–Corpus Christi in 2012.

Dr. David Bridges, Associate Professor of Engineering, Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi

The new faculty, who include electrical engineering PhDs with interests in controls and unmanned aircraft systems, applied in large part with the view to participate

in research at the test site operated by the Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence & Innovation headquartered at A&M–Corpus Christi.

To grow the pipeline for the technical baccalaureate degrees needed in the 34,000 manufacturing jobs and 70,000 new Unmanned Aircraft Systems jobs across the country, A&M–Corpus Christi outreach supports research, intellectual property generation, business development, and workforce development.

This summer, A&M–Corpus Christi held its first Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Institute. Twenty local high school students (nine of them Hispanic) attended a week-long day camp.

“The group got to learn the basics of programming unmanned aircraft; did indoor exercises with quad-copters, went on a tour of the aircraft carrier museum in Corpus Christi and where the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol operates a predator drone program for patrols in the Rio Grande Valley,” Bridges said.

The students also got to view the RS-16 operated by the Mechanical Engineering department. The unmanned aircraft has a 13-feet wingspan, is seven feet long, weighs between 70–80 pounds on takeoff, and carries a high definition video camera, ultraviolet camera, and an infrared camera used to capture scientific imagery for various researchers at A&M– Corpus Christi.

Bridges’ operation flies the RS-16 over the Laguna Madre on the Gulf of Mexico, barrier South Padre Island, and Port Mansfield to do a number of jobs such as property line demarcation on the water line, sea grass mapping, wildlife detection, and collection of coastal imagery and imagery that A&M–Corpus Christi researchers not involved in the UAS program use in their research.

“When we have a customer operating in our FAA UAS test site, we’re able to collect data and best practices and lessons learned on behalf of the FAA, which we report to them monthly for the Certificate of Waiver or Authorization that we have,” Cifuentes explained. The certificate is basically permission to fly an unmanned aircraft in the national air space.

It’s a Win–Win! Researchers at A&M–Corpus Christi benefit from the test site operation at Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Center, and the test site is able to submit the data that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires in order to come up with the regulations and air traffic control procedures for UAS systems in the national air space.

Dr. Ron George, senior research development officer at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, has been working on the drone program since the university first proposed it to the FAA in 2013.

Dr. Ron George, Senior Research Development Officer, Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi

The Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation research center was established by the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. The center runs the FAA test site.

“Under that umbrella, we’ve hired a private sector company to operate

the test site. The company is Camber Corporation, and we call them the lead systems integrator,” George says.

HISPANIC ENGINEER & Information Technology | Fall 2015 15

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