UK research team authorized by FAA to fly drones nationwide

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WOODFORD COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) - At the UK Research Farm in Woodford County a team of students use drones to conduct research.

"We're not interested in the vehicles themselves," associate professor of mechanical engineering Sean Bailey said. "What we're interested in is what we can do with them for the sake of science."

While the drones the team are using can be purchased by anyone and used for recreation, the models used by the research team have been slightly modified with autopilots installed on-board.

It used to be a long process to get approval from the FAA to fly a drone; anywhere from three to nine months.

With the "Certificate of Authorization" or COA from the FAA the team is allowed to fly nationwide under FAA regulations; a first for higher education in the state.

"It makes it a lot easier for us to do research now," assistant professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering Michael Sama said. "Up to this point we were kind of just testing things out but we were limited in terms of our ability to fly. Now we can actually go out and collect data on a seasonal basis."

Sama say the drones can be used for many different applications. He says the drones could eventually help to lower food costs in the future.

"This is one way that we're going to be able to grow more food on the same amount of land using less resources by managing them on a very precise level," Sama said.

With the training wheels off, the sky's the limit for the research team.

"The future is limitless really with these things, it's just up to peoples imaginations," Bailey said.

First up for the team is a trip to Oklahoma next month to research storm cells.

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