State funding will help SUNY Cortland develop drone technology

Editor’s Note: This is a press release from SUNY Cortland.

The SUNY Cortland Institute of Applied Geospatial and Drone Technology won part of a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative award presented to the City of Cortland on Thursday.

The institute, which will be led by members of the College’s Geography Department, will serve as a resource for entrepreneurs and startup companies as the City of Cortland strives to become a hub for geographic information systems (GIS), technology used for digital map-making, and drones. Funding will be used to renovate existing space on Main Street for meeting and office spaces as well as the purchase of equipment. An outdoor drone testing facility is also part of the project plan.

SUNY Cortland already has made inroads with private and public entities and academic institutions in exploring GIS and drone technology. In the spring of 2017, the College joined the NUAIR Alliance, a not-for-profit coalition that operates drone test ranges.

The institute will continue those efforts, focusing on linking SUNY Cortland faculty and students with members of the business community in the City of Cortland.

“Right off the bat, we’re hoping to really find out what these community organizations need and want more than what we’re already giving them,” said Wendy Miller, associate professor and chair of the College’s Geography Department. “We want to introduce them to drone technology.”

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for a collaboration between SUNY and other entities,” said Brian Tobin ’94, mayor of the City of Cortland. “We’re excited to have it right downtown because it keeps business and people in an area where they can continue to rub elbows with each other and continue to see our community grow.”

The location of the institute and the drone testing facility is yet to be determined. In most cases, those who pilot drones in New York state need to be licensed and registered. The drone testing facility will be an enclosed space that will allow unlicensed pilots the opportunity to get hands-on drone experience. This is of particular interest to Miller, who hopes to expand the institute’s outreach to include local schoolchildren.

Academically, the institute won’t be limited just to faculty and students in the Geography Department. For example, geology students may use drones to study rock formations and biology students could use the technology to research plant growth. College offices such as Facilities Operations and Services may use infrared cameras attached to drones to manage the energy efficiency of campus buildings.

“The technology is fantastic but it’s going to be about trying to figure out what we can get from the data,” Miller said. “What can we learn that’s new that we wouldn’t have any other way of finding out? Whether it’s an infrared camera looking at the roofs or monitoring farm fields for water usage or looking at forests and vegetation or even the police and fire departments, the applications are never-ending.”

“Since we have such a strong academic program here that has such a strong practical application, the opportunity to take classroom learning and make it practical and do to so in a real-world environment will be potentially transformational,” said Tobin. “Doing it right here in Cortland is very exciting.”

The institute will receive $100,000 in funding. More information on the Downtown Revitalization Project is available at