Our Academic / Amazon Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Partnership

Drone innovations in higher ed.

December 4, 2013

As part of my new role as director of digital learning initiatives at my institution I will be heading up our Our Academic / Amazon Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Partnership program.  

This project is an exciting subset of Amazon’s Prime Air initiative "to get packages into customers' hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles”.  

I am thrilled to be able to use this forum to announce to the Inside Higher Ed community some of the academic innovations that we envision coming out of this project.

In 2016 we expect to roll out on our campus the following options using a modified fleet of Amazon’s drones:


Our institution is truly international, with students coming from almost every state and almost 40 different countries. Starting in 2016 Amazon’s aerial vehicles will be utilized in a pilot project to pick up students prior to each term and deliver them home during academic breaks. This will be the first program that moves from utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles to transport packages to the transport of people.  

We believe that the higher ed student market makes an ideal test case, as the same tracking software used to select packages from an Amazon warehouse can be easily re-purposed to select students from campus.  

Parents will be able to monitor expected delivery time on both Amazon’s website and on any iOS or Android mobile phone or tablet.

One-To-One Drone Program: 

Freshman from the class of 2020 will all receive their own Amazon Drone (the mini version), with pre-loaded academic specific software.  

We believe that providing a drone to every student will encourage innovation and experimentation, as the one-to-one drone program will provide for a common unmanned aerial vehicle platform in which to experiment with new teaching and learning techniques.

Funding will be provided to any classes that incorporate drones into the curriculum, with faculty receiving their own drones if their proposal for drone-based-pedagogy is approved.  


Our partnership with the Amazon Prime Air group will allow us to bring the flipped classroom one step further. Starting in 2016 students will be able to attend class from the comfort of their dorm rooms using their camera and audio equipped drones.  

Active drone learning exercises, such as “hover-think-pair-share” will be enabled by special drone-to-drone communication software that will be shipping with each unmanned aerial vehicle.  

The goal with this drone-flipped-classroom program will be to provide a campus based / face-to-face learning experience that is not restricted to students who have the ability or desire to physically attend class.


Students in our school of engineering are actively working with Amazon engineers to radically lower the price of unmanned aerial vehicles, with an eye of providing a free (or almost free) campus based drone education to worldwide lifelong learners.   

Downsized drones equipped with cameras and microphones will enable non-matriculated students throughout the world to pilot these small drones to campus lectures, labs, sporting events, and even fraternity parties.   

No longer will the residential campus based experience be restricted to those living on campus.   

We are certain that our Amazon Prime Air Academic partnership will open up a whole new set of learning opportunities for our students, prospective students, alumni and lifelong learning community that we have not even begun to imagine.  

We are committing to this partnership with Amazon, and to investing in the academic drone space, as we understand that experimentation and risk taking are essential characteristics if we wish to avoid being on the losing end of disruptive innovations in postsecondary education.

We look forward to joining other institutions in exploring the potential of unmanned aerial vehicles to move higher education firmly into the 21st century.

Is your campus also considering your own academic drone program?


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