A Tradition of Excellence

As we become synonymous with all things autonomous, we're inspired by a spirit of service

This issue focuses on autonomous systems. From a technology perspective, they can help us collect data without putting anyone in harm’s way. We can restore independence to people by giving them new mobility options. We can move materials expeditiously. As impressive as the “how” of these systems is – now, more than ever, I want to acknowledge the “why.” We don’t pursue these projects to create gizmos and gadgets. We create them to put technology in service to society.

Applying science, technology, engineering and mathematics – STEM skills – to real-world problems goes back to our roots in early aviation. So does a sense of duty to our communities. At 17, John Paul Riddle volunteered to drive his town’s doctor to house calls. The 1918 influenza pandemic hit his hometown of Pikeville, Kentucky, so hard that officials were too overwhelmed to report all the deaths to the board of health. Riddle got the flu but recovered to enjoy another 82 years. Today, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University continues to live up to our founder’s example of civic service and resilience.

In the present pandemic, our staff and faculty moved quickly to protect students and our communities, migrating programs online and instituting wellness checks for those who needed to remain on campus. We also extended our resources to help younger students keep learning during school closures. In March, we began offering free, online programs for young learners and seven college-credit courses to high school students in Arizona and Florida. Our Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on aviation fundamentals reached more than 3,000 homebound students across the world.

Beyond our campus communities, our work as a global research and engineering institution has far-reaching impact and potential. This issue describes how an alumnus — through his employer — is using autonomous systems to deliver medical supplies to remote areas in Rwanda and Ghana. Our unmanned aerial systems (UAS) faculty and students have also surveyed cultural sites in Kosovo, monitored the aftermath of hurricanes and fires, helped farmers mitigate climate change with high-resolution imagery, and are developing robots that remove microplastics from beaches.

Our students will be qualified for the more than 100,000 “disruptive” jobs projected by 2025 in transportation, energy, telecommunications, the government, military and even entertainment. Embry-Riddle has always been synonymous with “all things aviation.” Our tradition of excellence continues as we become synonymous with “all things autonomous,” inspired by a spirit of service.


P. Barry Butler, Ph.D.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

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