Check Out Kansas State’s Batting Cage for Outdoor Drone Tests

A 300-foot long, 200-foot wide and 50-foot tall netted pavilion allows Kansas State, which is 5 miles from an airport, to safely test drones outside.

Photo Caption: This photo shows the new drone testing pavilion at Kansas State University's Polytechnic Campus. The nets on the 300-foot long, 200-foot wide and 50-foot tall structure allow wind, rain, snow or other weather conditions to pass into the test area and don't block GPS signals, allowing researchers to test drones in lifelike situations without risking safety.

I’m all for drone safety and, yes, even some form of regulation, but this is a little insane.

Kansas State University started a drone program in 2008, offering students a hands-on approach to learning about drones. However, the campus is within five miles of an airport, so under Federal Aviation Administration rules the college is prohibited from flying its drones outdoors on campus - its test flights have occurred off-site.

But the Wildcats have come up with a unique solution to testing drones outdoors on campus while maintaining safety: They built a 300-foot long, 200-foot wide and 50-foot tall netted “UAS pavilion” that looks like batting cages. The drones fly inside the netted structure, which is held up by wooden poles, to allow wind, rain, snow or other weather conditions to easily pass into the test area and don’t block GPS signals.

“For us and for our students, it means the students will graduate with a lot more flight time and a lot more experience,” says Dr. Kurt Barnhart, Associate Dean for Research and Engagement, Kansas State Polytechnic. “So, if they have 20 minutes between class, they can step out here do some practice work. Where as before they really had to go off campus and deploy, take their equipment, find the location and then pack it all up. It was at least a two-hour process at the very minimum.”

The UAS pavilion is also attracting industry interest, with project partner Westar Energy looking to use the facility for the training of their staff and developing ways drone technology may benefit the energy industry and their customers in times of crisis.

“It makes me excited that we are going to attract new people to come in here to bring new connections that probably wouldn’t have happened unless this facility would have been built. So, I am excited for the unforeseeable,” states Trevor Witt, Kansas State Polytechnic Student and UAS Club President.

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
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