Some higher education institutions in Michigan are seeking authorization to fly their own unmanned aircraft for testing and research amid a roiling national debate about U.S. military-targeted drone strikes abroad and privacy concerns at home.
Public entities like universities and police departments need approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to use unmanned aircraft outside of a lab, even when flying under 400 feet.
Among them are the University of Michigan and Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City. The FAA released an updated list of drone applicants — which included authorizations to fly for both schools — after a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.
Ella Atkins, a professor of aerospace engineering at U of M, said her department will apply for drone authorization within the next couple of months after the FAA made it tougher for universities to fly drones.
When U of M first applied five years ago, approval was almost “a given if you’re a university,” Atkins explained.