Drone in flight

Drone Research and Application

Pioneering drone-related research and application

Unmanned aircraft systems—more commonly referred to as drones—are capable of performing a variety of functions beyond the well-known military uses and can, in fact, be a key element in research. The potential for unmanned aircraft technology is just beginning to be tapped. Market research estimates that the total global market for non-military use of drones will generate at least $10.5 billion by 2024.

Our experience in drone-related research includes working with law enforcement and other first responder agencies to investigate potential uses for drones in crime scene investigation, crowd control, intelligence collection, transportation monitoring, search and rescue missions, and training. We have also contributed to U.S. and international efforts to develop practical applications of drones in agricultural research and crop monitoring, 3-D mapping, biological research, and human population studies, and we are now looking at the possibility to use drones as a tool to reduce the spread of the Zika and dengue viruses.

RTI is inserting drones into our research process in three ways. First, we are developing applications using drones to support existing research programs, such as health and statistics research. Second, we are applying our research in sensor design to the drone industry by developing platforms to support new RTI-built sensors on unmanned aircraft. Finally, we are examining drones as a social and economic phenomenon to better understand the impact on public opinion, the global economy, and critical issues with privacy, ethics, and safety. 

Having received approval under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, we are one of a small group of organizations authorized to operate registered drones for commercial purpose within FAA guidelines. This provides a significant advantage as we develop new research applications, test sensors, and conduct projects using drones.