Winnipeg-based drone program helps students ‘soar’ with possibilities

A unique program is giving Manitoba students opportunities to take a peek at a high-flying future working with drones.

For the past three years, the Science Experiential Aerial Research program, otherwise know as “SEAR” has been teaching students over the course of four days to learn about drones. Then, if students successfully complete the course, they are awarded their basic “Remotely Piloted Aircraft System” pilot certification through Transport Canada.

Matthew Johnson, the vice-president and director of education with Volatus Aerospace, says for students with an interest in drones and other remotely-operated aircraft, this course is invaluable.

“It’s a very exciting industry to be involved in,” explained Johnson. “These students are learning first-hand opportunities and getting hands-on experience, and using them in real world context.”

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Part of that context involves ongoing research into Dutch elm disease. As part of the SEAR program, Johnson and his team have been working on using drones to help more easily and quickly identify the disease.

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“Over the last couple years, we’ve been working with the University of Winnipeg to do research to try and see if you can use a multi-spectral sensor on a drone to detect symptoms of Dutch elm disease earlier,” Johnson said. “We’ve seen positive results, showing that, yes, you can detect the disease, or you can detect the symptoms of the disease as early as June.”

Students taking part in the SEAR program expressed how excited they were, as many have been interested in working with technology for some time.

“I’ve always been interested in vehicles, and transports,” said Maher Wahid, a student at Fort Richmond Collegiate. “Being able to fly, and aircraft, has always been interesting to me.”

Another student by the name of DJ sees the potential for drones in the future.

“Just seeing the technology grow,” DJ said. “Seeing how drones with different multi-spectral lenses and different types of lenses can take different types of photos, and potentially help us in the future.”

The programs potential to help it tailored to the areas of the country it’s offered in. For example, next week Johnson is taking the course to Portage La Prairie where instead of identifying Dutch elm disease, they focus on crop-related health.

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