Aeronautics students get look at new drone command center

Posted at 6:48 PM, Jan 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-18 18:48:12-05

"Personally I predict that most pilots that you see today are going to be replaced by drones," said 17-year-old Jackson Morris.

Morris is a student at Zephyrhills high school where he's enrolled in the Aeronautics Academy. On Wednesday, he got his first look at his newest classroom.

"We can operate so much more with this vehicle, we can see what our camera is seeing at a better level, we can take more information in at once," said Jackson.

Inside the normal looking van he's referring to, is an extraordinary amount of technology. Two flat screen TV's are mounted on the wall, a work desk for laptops and other controls sits beneath them. It's equipped with its own generator, power outlets, transmitters and much more. All of it is used to train the next generation of drone pilots.

"As oppose to going out and functioning with just handheld remotes, they can actually plug all that technology into the van," said Sam Harris, an instructor with the Aeronautics Academy.

The large mounted monitors allow multiple drone teams a better view of the onboard camera system.

The cameras used by Harris generate a stunning 4k image. With those images they can do a number of jobs like Surveying bridges and documenting disaster areas.  Harris says his students are getting behind the controls of something that will eventually become the norm in the drone industry in both commercial and military applications.

"And from this self contained unit, fly the aircraft without actually seeing it," said Harris. "However the legislation has to catch up with the capabilities first."

Ryan English with Flymotion says the mobile UAV command unit is capable of syncing directly with county emergency services or the sheriff's office so images and data are shared instantaneously. Flymotion is the the company that built the vehicle for Pasco County and aeronautics program.

English says these capabilities can be crucial in times of floods or fires. The video could be used to evacuate flood victims or survey a burning building. It's also equipped with what's called a smart board. Basically its a digital white board.  

"We just draw right on it and erase it as needed," said English swiping a stylus across the board and wiping it away with his hand. "So instructors could overlay some type of map or different things like that and he can annotate maybe their different flight plans, for the day or identify different things they are looking for."

Drones are taking flight in hundreds of job fields and this training will help these Bay Area students get a leg up on an industry that could top $120 billion by 2020.