agricultural drone (EAKNARIN JITONG/Shutterstock.com)

Expanding rural infrastructure for drones

Drones can provide significant benefits for residents and business in rural areas: delivering medical supplies, collecting data on the status of crops, aiding in search and rescue efforts.

MORE INFO

Mosquito-hunting drones

As one of the winners of the Federal Aviation Administration's Drone Integration Pilot Program, a Florida county plans to expand its use of drones to control mosquitos. Read more.

FAA picks 10 for drone integration pilot program

The winners and their commercial partners will work with the FAA to develop UAS testing zones and build a regulatory framework for unmanned systems operation. Read more.

White House high on drones, FAA gets tech to help manage them

The Trump administration issued plans for accelerating the integration of unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace. Read more.

Unfortunately, these areas also tend also have very little in the way of communications infrastructure that unmanned aerial systems can leverage, according to James Grimsley, the president and CEO of  autonomous systems developer Design Intelligence Inc. DII has been working as a consultant to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma on its drone programs.

There are two levels of infrastructure to consider with drones operating in rural areas: air traffic management and data management, said Grimsley, who also serves as associate vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma's Norman Campus.

The technology developed to track commercial aircraft wasn’t designed to accomodate large numbers of drones, so ground-based radar will be tested in Oklahoma. The required data exchange between operator and drone will likely be handled by “a little bit of everything,” including cellular networks and the expansion of ground-based fiber, he said.

As one of the selected participants of the Federal Aviation Administration's Drone Integration Pilot Program, the Choctaw Nation and its 20 partners will be investigating how rural communities can best create the infrastructure to support integration of drones into the national airspace and advance extended visual line of sight and night operations. It will also be testing drones for agriculture, public safety and weather warning systems.

Among the Choctaw Nation's partners are Airxos, which has a background in working on UAS traffic management projects; AirMap, a provider of Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability software that facilitates drone flight planning and authorization; and Intel, which has experience with drone communications and integrating computer vision into unmanned systems.

One of the first tests will be on a 44,000-acre ranch owned by the tribe that doesn’t have a built-out road system, where the partners will evaluate drones' ability to find lost cattle and deliver medical supplies beyond the operator's line of sight. The tribe and its partners will also be conducting night flights to measure variables in crops that could affect yield.

Weather is another area of interest. Grimsley said the team wants to use the drones to get better data on weather to potentially help improve tornado warning.  The current system gives residents only about 12 minutes warning, which is "not a lot of time,” he said.

In August, the Choctaw Nation will demonstrate its work with extended visual line of sight capabilities and night flights.

“I have never seen the momentum moving forward like we have with this,” Grimsley said. “The resources the FAA [has] devoted to it, the attention they’re putting to it, the cohesive kind of plan and kind of attitude within the government right now is very positive.”

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a reporter/producer at GCN.

Before joining GCN, Leonard worked as a local reporter for The Smithfield Times in southeastern Virginia. In his time there he wrote about town council meetings, local crime and what to do if a beaver dam floods your back yard. Over the last few years, he has spent time at The Commonwealth Times, The Denver Post and WTVR-CBS 6. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received the faculty award for print and online journalism.

Leonard can be contacted at mleonard@gcn.com or follow him on Twitter @Matt_Lnrd.

Click here for previous articles by Leonard.


inside gcn

  • cloud services (jijomathaidesigners/Shutterstock.com)

    AWS GovCloud gets more enterprise services

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group