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Drones Assuming a Larger Role in University Research

Drones Assuming a Larger Role in University Research


Wally BostonIn the Spring 2017 issue of Duke Magazine, Scott Huler writes about the many ways in which drones are being utilized by researchers at Duke University. At the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, North Carolina, drones are used for many purposes ranging from photography of marine animals, weather and mapping to other oceanographic research and observation needs. The same autopilot system that guides the drones guides an autonomous ground rover, boat and submersible.

The capabilities of these new technologies for changing the dynamics in ocean research has led to the creation of a Marine Conversation Ecology Unoccupied Systems Facility which focuses on the use of these systems for mapping coastlines, counting species, examining ecosystem health and productivity, measuring animal health, and even doing marine archaeology. It’s the first facility of its kind for universities and the first that the FAA has approved for using drones in marine research. There’s even a Twitter feed, @MarineUAS, that provides photos and examples of some of the ways that drones are being used to enhance marine research.

Drones not only carry cameras (regular, 3D, and infrared) but other instruments as well. Unmanned flights are relatively inexpensive and can be conducted frequently, and routinely. Computer programs are written to analyze photographs, saving grad student time as well as enhancing accuracy of the analysis. The scientists at the Marine Lab have hosted workshops and courses on how to utilize drones in research.

Huler provides insights into other departments at Duke and some of the drone applications that they’re researching or developing. At the Human and Autonomy Lab (HAL), for example, one Ph.D. student is studying the development of drones that will carry people. As more and more drones populate the sky, an infrastructure including command centers to regulate and direct the traffic will be necessary. While computer systems will collect the data and monitor drone locations in real time, humans will be necessary to understand and manage the systems.

The article about Duke’s drone activities makes clear that technology utilization is becoming more interdisciplinary. While marine labs have utilized technology for many years, the utilization of technologies that can be deployed elsewhere (such as for archaeology digs) is providing more opportunities for multi-department collaborations. I’m truly excited to learn about the continuing evolution and integration of technology into processes that enhance and improve so many facets of our lives and environment. As lessons from this research are integrated into classrooms and curriculums at other educational institutions, it can only expand the number of ways in which we utilize these technologies.



Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. Dr. Boston lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Sharon and their two daughters.