The University of Albany in Upstate New York recently unveiled a two-story, 1,700-square-foot drone lab.
The College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity (CEHC) hosted an open house last month to launch the lab, located in the basement of Page Hall at the university’s downtown campus. The space, enclosed with netting and rubber flooring, offers a controlled indoor environment for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flight training, along with land-based robotics research and educational opportunities.
According to a press release from UAlbany, last summer, Brandon Behlendorf, an assistant professor at CEHC, was leaving his office in Richardson Hall when he stumbled upon an aging stairwell on the north corner of the second floor. Wondering where it led, he made his way down five stories to a locked door in the basement. Through a small, dust-filled window, he saw a basketball gymnasium.
“Wouldn’t this be a great space to fly drones?” he thought.
The Page Hall basement was vacant for about 40 years prior to its drone lab renovation, the university says. The basement was constructed as a gym when the building first opened in 1929. It served as the home for UAlbany basketball games through the mid-1960s, as well as a venue for theater productions, school dances and physical education classes, and was then used for storage.
Behlendorf, who is co-instructing a course this semester with Albany Law Professor Robert Heverly on the legal, ethical and operational impacts of unmanned systems, met with CEHC Dean Robert Griffin to find out how they could gain access to the space.
“Until now, we were offering hands-on drone flight training to our students outside of the downtown campus, which presented a number of challenges due to weather conditions and outdoor flying regulations,” explains Behlendorf. “The Page Hall gym offers us a year-round space, which is covered, heated and insulated.”
The college worked with the Office of Facilities Management to turn the gym into a lab. Under the direction of Michael Leczinsky, a CEHC professor of practice, the lab also will integrate with the college’s makerspace, allowing students to design their own UAVs, prototype them using 3D printers and fly them within the facility.
In addition, CEHC views the drone lab as a “resource for first responders, industry partners and local high school students,” according to Griffin.
The college’s National Center for Security & Preparedness already leads drone operations training for law enforcement, EMS and fire agencies at the State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany, N.Y. Now, the drone lab will provide new capabilities for the center’s training and research and development efforts.
Joseph Scaperrotta, a 2016 graduate of CEHC’s Informatics program, now works at Mechanical Testing Inc. in Saratoga Springs, an authorized DJI drone dealer. His company donated a dozen drones and accessories, totaling about $2,100, to the new drone lab.