CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A team of researchers at North Carolina State University just received quite an honor.
They're part of a group of colleges and universities across the country just named the Federal Aviation Administration Center for Excellence by the federal government.
That means the team shares $5 million over the next time years to study the integration of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) into the airspace.
Basically, they're looking at how to protect your privacy and security while developing a comprehensive set of rules for the operation and piloting of UAV's.
"The difference between drones and UAV's is that UAV's are smart," said Kyle Snyder, director of the NexGen Air Transportation Program.
WBTV was there as the team at NC State flew over a rural farming area collecting data using a UAV that looked like a mini Stealth Bomber. However, it weighed only 3 pounds.
The flight plan is loaded into it's computer before it takes off right down to the very spot it will touch down when it's mission is finished.
"You pick out the landing spot and make sure there are no rocks and you don't land into something you really don't want to," said Thomas Zajkowski, Flight Operations Manager.
This particular aircraft is part of a very diverse fleet of 11 doing important work. This team knows, and the FAA does too, that a world where UAV's fly high above us on a regular basis is coming.
"One of the things we're really pushing is how do these things operate safely," Snyder said.
The team is looking at the safest way to use UAV's in as many different arenas as possible. That could include flying over fields to look at crop health, terrain and elevation.
They could also be used for bridge inspections, in emergency management, forestry, filmmaking, even collecting imagery for real estate sales.
The long-term goal is to put policies in place to grow an entire ecosystem that includes safe aircraft and pilots while properly using and storing the information they gather.
The research team is also looking into privacy issues - how information is gathered and stored.
To read the full press release from the FAA about the Center for Excellence and the work the team will be doing, click here.