Business Column

Why central New York is emerging as a drone industry hub

Daily Orange File Illustration

The United States Army recently awarded a Syracuse-based research and development company a $65 million contract to create a system that would detect and defend against drones — evidence enough that there is a demand in the city and central New York region for drone research.

But that demand goes beyond the company, SRC, and has facilitated itself in state funding for a corridor dedicated to the research and testing of drones that will stretch 15 miles from Syracuse to Rome. Gov. Andrew Cuomo allocated $35 million of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative funding toward the corridor and $230,000 toward six drone research projects at Syracuse University. SU is also actively working on proposals to receive more funding for drone research.

“There are very few places in the country where such kind of experimentation facility is available,” said Gurdip Singh, an associate dean at SU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, of the corridor.

Despite the many technological resources available in other parts of the country, Syracuse of all places is the perfect location for the drone corridor. Syracuse — and the central New York region as a whole — has the potential to be emerging hub of the drone industry.

Believe it or not, Syracuse’s weather conditions played a role in attracting the drone corridor. The city’s varying weather patterns throughout the year — from winter blizzards to spring rainstorms — are quite useful in drone testing. In other places where drones are tested these weather conditions must be simulated, but Syracuse offers the real environment, and for free.

Another attractive factor is the state’s eagerness to invest in the drone industry. Overall, Cuomo wants to spend $250 million of the $500 million allocated for the Upstate Revitalization Initiative on establishing central New York as a hub for drone research, according to Syracuse.com.

Singh said he hopes that Syracuse can do for drones what Pittsburgh did for autonomous vehicles. Pittsburgh took the initiative and passed legislation to allow for autonomous vehicles, a move which generated research and economic activity.

Singh said the corridor, which will be one of few of its kind in the country, will enable research projects that were not before possible and generate economic development.

“Drone research in this particular area is not just driven by engineering and computer science; it’s a multidiscipline activity,” Singh said. “You also need to look at the policy and the law behind it and all of the different applications.”

That multidiscipline activity is reflected at SU, and is what made the university’s proposal for drone funding from the state so attractive. Drones have practical applications in other SU disciplines besides engineering, Singh said, including the archaeology and journalism programs.

One of the current projects, for example, is a joint venture between the College of Engineering and Computer Science and the College of Arts and Sciences’ geosciences program. The project focuses on environmental monitoring, and has used drones to fly over lakes, collect samples and take different measurements.

Singh said drones have applications in pretty much every career path, and added that the College of Engineering and Computer Science is eager to provide resources and expertise for students to explore these applications.

The drone industry is rapidly emerging, and SU and its students are in an exciting position to explore its takeoff. With the projects going on at SU and the financial commitment by the state, Syracuse and central New York seem poised to take the drone industry by storm.

Alex Straus is a sophomore public relations major and finance minor. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at astraus@syr.edu.

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