BRIGANTINE — Once an aspiring chemist, 21-year-old Eric Cwiklinski is now the proprietor of his own aerial photography business, thanks to an accidental run-in with drones.
“It was kind of a shot in the dark, and it really worked out for me so far,” said Cwiklinski, who is finishing up a drone program through Atlantic Cape Community College this May. “It’s an excellent program.”
Although drones have gained civilian popularity in the past decade, the technology has been around since World War II, mainly developed for military use. Now, commercial uses of drones are rapidly being developed and implemented.
Students can become entrepreneurs in the drone industry because of continuing education classes and degree programs at South Jersey colleges and universities.
Stockton University drone class
Students enrolled in Stockton University's Office of Continuing Studies course on drones, or unmanned aviation systems (UAS), take test flights at Veterans Park in Galloway Township April 14, 2018.
Participants will get experience with several different types of UAS and will also be prepared for the test required to become a certified drone pilot under Part 107 or FAA regulations.
Cwiklinski, a native of Brigantine, went to Vermont to study chemistry after graduating from Holy Spirit High School in Absecon. He said he had taken some time off from school after realizing he didn’t want to go in that direction and stumbled upon drone classes at an Atlantic Cape Community College open house, where he had originally intended to look into culinary classes. Now, he owns Qwik Drones, a freelance service that uses unmanned aircraft systems — longhand for drones — to take aerial photos and videos.
“Anything you need to see above your head,” Cwiklinski said of what his drones photograph. “Inspection work is really becoming a thing for drones, from nuclear plants to windmills.”
Adam Greco, who teaches drone classes at Atlantic Cape, and Rowan and Stockton universities, said just as the automobile changed the way the world moved, drones are changing the way just about any industry operates. With that change comes hesitance, but also innovation, he said.
“They are doing things that humans used to do safer, cheaper and quicker,” said Greco. “It’s very hard to keep up with the UAS world.”
Regulations on the drone industry are still being tweaked, and so is the technology, he said.
Greco said he reads every day about drones to keep ahead of the changes — and for his students’ benefit, too. He said many of his students have gone on to start their own drone-related businesses or apply them to their profession.
Colin Slusher, 26, of Mays Landing, works for A.E. Stone in Pleasantville, where he uses drones to measure the volume of the company’s stockpiles. Slusher is currently enrolled in another of Greco’s classes.
Slusher said the drones more efficiently and accurately measure the volume of the stockpiles than humans can. Using a computer program, the drones measure the depth and width of the piles, then calculate the volume. Before this technology, humans used estimates and measuring tape to do the calculations.
“It cuts down on labor hours because before we had to use two or three guys to do it and also it cuts down on time,” he said. “In this case it’s actually faster and more accurate.”
Slusher said drones will be just as useful as computers are to almost every industry.
“It’s only really limited by our imagination,” he said.