Reno, Nev. (CBS LAS VEGAS) — Universities are offering degrees in drone design, research and production across the country as engineering students at the University of Nevada-Reno prepare for their future in robotic flight careers.

Congress has instructed the Federal Aviation Administration to integrate unmanned autonomous systems (UAS) into American civil airspace by 2015 as they finalize regulations. The FAA predicts that 10,000 remote-piloted planes will operate in American airspace within five years. In preparation, the University of Nevada-Reno is offering an undergraduate minor that combines robots and computer science with engineering students.

“As an engineer, you’re playing with robots and that whole research and development thing is just really exciting.” 23-year old student Orion Vazquez told CBS News. When he graduates in May, Vazquez hopes to be one of the first students in the school to earn a “drone degree.”

Professor Kam Leang, of the University of Nevada-Reno, helped create the new undergraduate minor, and the school hopes graduates can help transform Nevada into the “Silicon Valley” of the drone industry – and industry estimated to generate $89 billion over the next five years.

The drone course description reads: “Unmanned autonomous systems are high-tech, intelligent machines capable of traveling by air, land or sea without a human crew on board. Thanks to advanced computing technology, sensing capability and mechanical design, unmanned autonomous systems are versatile machines able to maneuver in diverse — and sometimes dangerous — environments.”

The Reno school already received a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Army to engineer drones that can detect gas leaks or other possible hazards.

In 2009, the University of North Dakota was the first of dozens of college programs to add major and minor undergraduate programs in unmanned aerial systems. Kansas State and Indiana State are just part of a rapidly growing sect of college courses in unmanned flight.

The FAA announced in December that Nevada is one of six states designated as a center for developing unmanned aircraft systems. The University of Nevada-Reno is hoping to work with both government and industry to make the school a hub for unmanned, robotic development.

“The decision by the FAA to select the State of Nevada as a test site to begin work on safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace aligns perfectly with plans and projects underway at the University of Nevada-Reno,” Leang said in December.

Vazquez told CBS News that a future career in unmanned flight systems is exciting.

“To think of being able to create these little devices outside of school, and basically get paid to do what I love, that’s kinda where it is for me,” he told CBS News. “That’s the dream. That’s really where I see myself in the future and I really want to be a part of that.”


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