ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – The University of Texas Arlington Research Institute, or UTARI, is part of a state-wide push to cash in on the future of drones. They’re researching ways unmanned vehicles can function safely in the air, on the ground — even in the water.

To demonstrate the technology, a small drone powered by four helicopter blades hovered a few feet from a researcher holding a box with pictures on it the drone recognized. It’s programmed to automatically keep its distance from another object in the air — technology needed to avoid mid-air collisions. As the researcher stepped towards the drone, it automatically retreated to keep its distance.

“It’s the cutting edge of technology,” said UTARI Director of Research Eileen Clements. “Its where unmanned systems are going right now and we need to be able to develop the students and develop the technology that will enable this.”

The focus now is on developing unmanned systems to fill every day needs — like monitoring crops. They’re also working with Arlington Police Department on reconnaissance and surveillance work.

The Institute, and other research agencies, will receive a boost from a three year grant awarded to the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Innovation to promote education and training for the unmanned vehicle field.

The research is part of the push to integrate drones into commercial airspace. And, once that can be done safely the drone business should really take off.

“Within the first three years when we fly into the national airspace you’re going to have a situation where have about 13 or 14 billion dollars of economic benefit and about 72,000 new jobs and that’s only going to increase,” said Michael Toscano, President and CEO Association of Unmanned Vehicles International, a non-profit organization committed to advancing unmanned vehicle technology.

The promise of explosive growth in the field is what is luring people like Rommel Alonzo from Florida to UTARI. He is now working on his PhD there.

I love Miami,” Alonzo said. “Half of my family is there. But, in Texas everything is bigger, including the opportunities.”

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