High-desert drones in Central Oregon

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Ben Jacklet
Thursday, August 04, 2011

By Ben Jacklet

Oregon State University and Economic Development for Central Oregon have signed an agreement to collaborate on research and commercialization in the fast-growing unmanned aerial vehicles industry.

The economic goal of the agreement is to recruit businesses to Central Oregon by offering testing and research opportunities in the skies over the High Desert. EDCO's executive director, Roger Lee, says he has heard from "more than a dozen" companies eager to test out their systems.

Currently most drone testing is done in military airspace, where waiting lists can run long and changes in plans can arrive unexpectedly and without explanation. Smaller companies often have to wait months to test out their innovations. "We have what the industry lacks," says Lee. "Open airspace and not a lot of cloudy days."

The $5 billion UAV industry is growing by at least 10 percent annually, mostly due to military contracts. The New Yorker recently reported that the Obama Administration authorized more drone missile strikes in Pakistan during its first year in power than the Bush Administration did in eight years. The Columbia Gorge-based drone powerhouse Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing, has grown to 800 employees and $400 million in revenue, and recently landed a $250 million special ops contract with the military.

Next will come civilian applications. Unmanned aircraft are being used to measure snowpack and monitor wildlife in remote locations, and many more uses are bound to develop with time, as the FAA amends its rules to make room for UAVs. OSU's agreement to get involved in the industry could bring new opportunities in natural resources, forestry, engineering, agriculture and oceanography. The university's vice president for research, Rick Spinrad, says faculty members could one day get hands-on experience in the industry. "That's one of the attractions for us," he says, "having scientists in Corvallis monitoring or even controlling flights in Central Oregon, right from their offices in Corvallis."

Over the long term, the research could transform the practice of collecting data about the natural and man-made worlds. More immediately, the agreement could bring jobs to Central Oregon, which invested heavily in aviation only to get burned by the collapse of the private plane industry. EDCO estimates that the initiative will bring 450 jobs over seven years, with $28 million in new payroll and $75 million in total economic impact.

The eventual goal is to make Central Oregon one of six designated test sites nationally for unmanned planes.

Ben Jacklet is managing editor for Oregon Business. Read more about the Bend economy in Jacklet's story "Bend is Back! Sort of" and about the unmanned plane business.

 

 

Comments   

 
cmb
-1 #1 RE: High-desert drones in Central Oregoncmb 2011-11-27 11:09:07
This is a terrible idea, why would you want to monitor wildlife? Just put jobs in front of anything and that seems to be your argument.
Drones are not safe. They are in military space for a reason. Just because some lazy fat asses want to play pilot in the luxury of their easy chairs does not give them the right to invade Americans airspace. Isn't there a constitutional law against this?
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Lisa
0 #2 Drones Offer OpportunitiesLisa 2011-11-28 13:31:23
cmb that was a rather thoughtless response, not to mention rather vulgar in tone. And you think drones are not safe because???? Maybe not safe if you are a terrorist in Yemen but they are extremely safe and effective using fewer resources and resulting in lower risk than piloted aircraft.

BTW I checked the Constitution for laws against drones. Not a mention.
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Michael Vaughn
0 #3 Drones are useful, but need regulationMichael Vaughn 2011-11-29 20:58:49
For once, I will side with Lisa on this one (although her tone is one of contempt, and she does not elaborate on how she KNOWS drones are safe).

I believe drones may have many uses to society besides military uses. Remote areas can be surveyed better by lower flying, slower flying drones, than by traditional aircraft, increasing the accuracy of maps, discovering new critical wildlife habitats, and maybe even scaling timber remotely. I am all for bringing these kinds of jobs to Oregon. However, the net loss of jobs might be higher than new jobs added. I hope the Economic Development for Central Oregon and Oregon State University study the impact to current jobs as well as creating new ones.

Also, before we jump onto this wagon, I would like to see rules in place that highly regulate this new industry. We are not the “wild west” any longer.
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Lisa
+1 #4 Droning OnLisa 2011-11-30 13:00:35
My experience with drones is with military personnel who utilized them in Iraq (and probably other places not disclosed). There were literally hundreds of missions, with the potential of enemy fire along with mechanical problems yet the record of the drones is outstanding. The previous claimed drones were "unsafe" but did not provide the source of his conclusion. Too often new technology is met with a sky is falling mentality without looking into reality.

As a friend of two private pilots killed in accidents, I like the idea of drones being used in remote areas or during inclement weather. Even when occupants survive a crash, if in a remote or inaccessable area, they cannot get treatment in time to save their lives. While I love Bambi and Thumper, I don't think it's worth risking a life if we need to monitor them from above. If drones can be used, particularly for risky flights, I'm all for them.

As to regulations, flight in any aircraft is already heavily regulated. I am not sure that there are any drone specific regulations needed but that might come in time as drones are incorporated into the rest of the flying missions.
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