In 2012, CITRIS Aviation launched at UC Merced with the opening of the MESA Lab (for Mechatronics, Embedded Systems, and Automation, a multidisciplinary collaborative space that focuses heavily on airborne research: building, flying, and modifying unmanned aerial systems (UAS) as well as aerial crop monitoring and analysis make up a large part of ongoing projects.
The UC Merced campus is distinguished as the UC Center of Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft System Safety, offering expertise and ensuring regulatory compliance for UAS operations within the entire University of California system. The Center is authorized to grant certain forms of approval for UAS operations in the US via the Federal Aviation Administration.
Since then, CITRIS Aviation has expanded to UC Davis, which launched a Drone Training Academy for high school students in 2018. Designed by a 20-year veteran of the aviation industry, the Drone Academy aims to engage underrepresented youth with emerging STEM fields and wide-spread applications of UAVs for societal benefit.
UC Davis origins with remote sensing extend back to the 1980s, when researchers built their own computers and software to process raw environmental data collected by air. As technology evolved, researchers deployed a variety of flying aircraft to collect data for monitoring natural disasters, studying climate change, mapping soil types and forests, monitoring air pollution, forecasting weather, unearthing archaeological sites, detecting oil spills, determining moisture content of soil, documenting melting glaciers, predicting retail earnings by counting cars in parking lots, and much more. Today a burgeoning student Drone Club, and plans for a UAV research facility are being implemented to address challenges and emerging demands for a variety of industry applications.