Take That, Red Baron
Paul is a UAV consultant and one of many frustrated UAV entrepreneurs. He suggested that such business activities and innovations are just a sample of what will happen when FAA rules are released. He has worked with UAVs for the past seven years, consults with several academic institutions and is working on a low cost UAV system that would be leased to users rather than owned.
"The inability to operate commercially has stifled innovation," he said. "In Canada and Australia, we already see service providers working with farmers, initially with large agricultural concerns, but it has quickly trickled down to individual, large scale farmers acquiring a small UAV. UAVs have been used in Japan for the past 10 years. They even use them to crop dust small rice paddies."
AG COLLEGE INTEREST
One segment that is rapidly ramping up involvement in UAVs are colleges, large and small. They range from the likes of Northland Community College, Thief River Falls, Minn., with an existing program in Aviation Maintenance to the neighboring University of North Dakota (UND) with its internationally known pilot training programs.
"UND has students in the classrooms on simulators, which are like the iPads and laptops they will use to actually fly in the field," explained Tom Kenville, co-founder of the Unmanned Applications Institute (UAI) International, a North Dakota non-profit founded to develop the unmanned aerospace industry in that state. North Dakota is one of two dozen states hoping to secure designation as an FAA approved UAV test site.
"These are exciting times," he said. "UAVs are expected to double the size of the current aviation industry. Our mission is to work with schools and companies and grow the industry."
An AutoCopter is an early example of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). UAVs are anticipated to be approved for use by crop consultants and retailers. The FAA is expected to make a decision later this year. UAI is also involved with others outside North Dakota and even the upper Midwest. Nearly a year ago, UAI joined a Dayton, Ohio based initiative specifically to develop and market UAV technology for agriculture. Partners include Goodrich, a Minnesota based company, already manufacturing UAVs and the University of Dayton led Institute for Development and Commercialization of Advanced Sensor Technology. Sensor development will focus around evaluating crop damage, identifying infestations and soil conditions.
The joint effort made sense to Kenville. "They are strong in sensor development, and we are real strong in operations in North Dakota," he said.