UC Merced

UC Merced lab to lead UC system’s drone research

Brandon Stark, a doctorate student at UC Merced, gestures to a water collecting drone, called the “Aquacopter,” inside the university’s MESA lab in 2014. UC Merced has been named as the lead school in determining how drones should be used and regulated across the University of California system.
Brandon Stark, a doctorate student at UC Merced, gestures to a water collecting drone, called the “Aquacopter,” inside the university’s MESA lab in 2014. UC Merced has been named as the lead school in determining how drones should be used and regulated across the University of California system. tmiller@mercedsunstar.com

UC Merced has been chosen to take the lead in determining how drones should be used and regulated across the University of California system, officials announced Monday.

School of Engineering doctoral student Brandon Stark has been pegged to serve as director of the newly formed Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Safety, which is funded by the system’s Office of the President. Stark’s appointment begins in May.

“We’re very fortunate to have Brandon. He’s uniquely qualified, having designed, built and operated (unmanned aircraft),” Ken Smith, executive director of Environmental Health and Safety for the UC system, said in a news release. “This is an emerging regulatory area, and we have many UC community members who are interested in drones.”

This is UC Merced’s first Center of Excellence under the Campus and Public Safety umbrella, according to university officials.

This was definitely exciting news for Campus and Public Safety to house the newest Center of Excellence in the UC system.

Albert Vasquez, assistant vice chancellor for Campus and Public Safety and chief of police at UC Merced

“We’ll be the clearinghouse for drone policy, privacy issues, liability and risk management, information about state and federal laws, and training and other resources,” Stark said in a news release.

Stark said he plans to offer training courses, seminars and workshops for people within the UC system, and for people who use drones in their businesses, such as farmers.

Many California colleges are developing drone policy as well, but are doing it individually, according to a news release. Stark said he sees the potential for the UC system to work with California’s state and community colleges.

“The UC has the advantage in that this is supported from the very top of the system,” he said. “But if we could all get together, we’d become one very large, influential voice for advocacy.”

Stark, a Tracy High School graduate, is the founding manager of UC Merced’s Mechatronics, Embedded Systems and Automation Lab, which opened in 2012 and is led by professor YangQuan Chen.

The MESA Lab is an interdisciplinary research group that works on research, providing mentoring and hands-on research experience for engineering undergraduate students.

(Unmanned aircraft) use is becoming more and more prevalent as their capabilities grow. However, policies and guidelines for their use are diffuse at this time.

Mark Matsumoto, dean of the UC Merced School of Engineering

“This UC drone center hosted at UC Merced will help to turn scientific data-drone education, research and service into a signature program at UC Merced,” Chen said. “California’s Central Valley will become the ‘Scientific Data-Drone Valley’ for precision agriculture, environmental monitoring, natural resource management and digital heritage.”

The Centers of Excellence program, through the UC’s Environmental Health and Safety division, began in 2010. The program is designed to recognize unique pockets of expertise within campuses or medical centers, and share information and best practices throughout the system.

The drone-safety center will be funded by the system for two years on a renewable contract, according to a news release.

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