Before joining the UNLV staff in 2014, Paul Oh taught mechanical engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia for 14 years. The world-renown robotics expert came to Las Vegas after Nevada received an FAA designation to test unmanned aerial systems, or drones. In his time on campus, Oh has begun developing a world-class robotics lab, and his team of students placed eighth at the international Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge, where they faced teams from MIT and NASA.
“We’ve seen the growth and value of drones, and it’s just going to continue to grow,” he says. “People are looking to the United States for leadership and direction, and, with Nevada being one of the six test sites … It’s going to have a worldwide impact.”
Drone of All Trades
For Oh, drones are more than hobbyist toys or something the military can use for missions. “Every adjective that you can put in front of the word ‘drone’ comes to mind,” he says. “Everything from search-and-rescue drone, firefighting drone, delivery and transport drone, medevac drones. … In whatever ways they can improve quality of life, that’s where I want to be.”
Nevada’s Pioneering Spirit
Adjusting to the desert heat is not the only difference with Oh’s new home compared to the Northeast. “What I am discovering the longer I stay here is this is a population that’s really excited about high tech,” he says, citing Hyperloop Technologies and Faraday Future’s recent move to the Apex Industrial Site in North Las Vegas.
“Nevadans have this can-do spirit,” he says. “It’s very ingenious how they’re able to take something out of nothing, [like] taking a spot in the desert and creating this place that 40 million people come to each year.”
Despite that resourceful attitude, Nevada has also shown Oh some areas that can be improved. He’s working with UNLV’s Department of Education and local high schools to see how they could use robotics to get students excited about STEM education.
With Tesla and Faraday Future talking alternative energy, Oh’s interest in renewable energy, particularly solar, has been piquing. “Solar could position Nevada to be a key player,” he says.