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North Dakota’s drone investment paying off

Tommy Kenville

Grand Forks

North Dakota has been a leader in advancing drone technology for more than a decade. Senator John Hoeven has long been a champion for unmanned aviation, and Governor Doug Burgum along with Lieutenant Governor Brent Sanford are ensuring North Dakota continues to lead the nation in UAS.

While drones are increasing efficiencies across our state, they are also spurring job creation. From the Grand Sky Park and Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks, to the young, talented pilots graduating from UND and staying in North Dakota – the world of drones opens possibilities for our young people no matter their background.

The North Dakota Legislature has devoted nearly $28 million in the upcoming biennium towards a statewide network to allow drones to fly extraordinary distances without interruption. The recent investment in creating a statewide beyond visual line of site (BVLOS) network for drone flights will take this industry to the next level in our state. Not only can almost every business sector benefit from this network, but the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in our rural communities has far-reaching impacts. BVLOS creates jobs not only for pilots, but for the information technology sector as well.

As the BVLOS network expands, there is a need to design and maintain the communications systems that allows for the management and analysis of the huge amounts of data generated. Drones deliver data, which businesses use in many ways, most importantly to deliver better products to their customers. Inspection of critical infrastructure (wind turbines, bridges, pipelines) provides information on repairs or replacements needed, saves time, and is much safer than manual inspections. Unmanned systems can also be used to check on storm or accident damage, help increase crop production, provide crucial construction data, give property views for real estate sales, assist law enforcement with search and rescue and security, monitor wildlife, and, of course, deliver packages, food and medical materials.

Because North Dakota has been leading the way in unmanned aviation, it will be North Dakotans who lead the way in developing solutions for the drone industry across the country and around the world. Drones continue to push the limits of what we know about modern aviation. Companies from all over the world are developing their technologies within our borders, making North Dakota the go-to place for this rapidly changing industry.

Kenville is the CEO of ISight RPV Services, the first private drone company founded in North Dakota and headquartered in Grand Forks.

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