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FDU, BCTS take flight on police drone alliance

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Sai Sankar, research coordinator for STEM at Petrocelli College of Continuing Education at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Sankar is working with two Bergen County Technical Schools instructors to design drones that can navigate a building autonomously.
Sai Sankar, research coordinator for STEM at Petrocelli College of Continuing Education at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Sankar is working with two Bergen County Technical Schools instructors to design drones that can navigate a building autonomously. - ()

Police officers often respond to shootings without knowing where the perpetrator is in a building or the site's layout.

To mitigate such risks, Fairleigh Dickinson University and Bergen County Technical Schools educators are designing a drone to navigate a building autonomously and aid police officers in responding to shootings.


The project is the work of Sai Sankar, research coordinator for STEM at the Petrocelli College of Continuing Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University; and Nicolas Elefther and Matthew Sarisky, instructors at Bergen County Technical Schools. They are designing a drone that will record video to give police officers situational awareness of a perpetrator inside a building.

“The most important thing is the combination of research and education in one piece. We have to blend them so students learn fromit and science moves forward. This is good business and great for society.”

Sai Sankar, Fairleigh Dickinson University

“Law enforcement has to deal with several active shooter situations,” Sankar said. “What can we do to save lives before sending people into harm’s way?”

Sankar said they are applying concepts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to build the device. 

“The prototype is unique in the sense that we are trying to solve a specific problem that most research organizations or companies have not tried to solve,” Sankar said. “The most important thing is the combination of research and education in one piece. We have to blend them so students learn from it and science moves forward. This is good business and great for society. These technologies have to make people’s lives better and safer.”

FDU’s Petrocelli College of Continuing Studies has developed a long-term relationship with BCTS for training in technology. The project research is self-funded.

Richard Panicucci, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for BCTS, said his students are working with their instructors to construct the drone.

“Drone technology is a great post-hold for teaching a lot of very employable skills in a lot of different areas,” Panicucci said, citing electronics, computer programming, design thinking, engineering and mechanical work.

“From an educational standpoint, the nice thing about a drone is that it is a high-interest topic that gets kids interested and developing skills that are transferrable,” he said. “If you develop skills in electronics and computer programming, that opens you up to employability beyond the drone industry.”

Project participants are testing the drone’s sensors on a ground robot, which they also hope will be used by police.

“Our objective is to have the drone fly through the building and help law enforcement officers so they have eyes and ears without putting themselves in harm’s way,” Sankar said.

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David Hutter

David Hutter


David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at dhutter@njbiz.com.

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