by Sam Churchill
Rivers are ubiquitous. They’re isolated from crowds. They’re easy to identify. They’re near most urban and rural communities. They could make safe, practical, and permanent controlled airspaces.
Rivers have traditionally enabled business and commerce.
Insitu, headquartered along the Columbia River from Hood River, currently uses airspace near Arlington and Boardman to test its unmanned aircraft.
SOAR, Oregon’s Drone Kickstarter, is designed to establish Oregon as a leader in the civilian uses of unmanned aircraft. Last year the organization launched a two-year $882,000 state grant from the Oregon Business Development Department and the Oregon Innovation Council.
Drones are used for river and transmission line surveillance, spotting forest fires, search and rescues, law enforcement and other applications. Drones provide real-time information to firefighters and alert officials when conditions change.
“I think you are going to see them sooner than you think,” said Rusty Warbis, flight operations manager at the BLM’s National Aviation Office.
Jonathan Evans, CEO of Portland-based SkyWard.io, says their Urban Skyways Project is the first series of end-to-end demonstrations of a commercial drone network operated with full regulatory compliance.
The goal is persistent, commercial, digitally- managed airspace. Skyward raised $4.1M in expansion capital to expand the engineering and product development team. Verizon invested in Skyward and is
working with regulatory agencies on flight routes and use cases.
The Unmanned Aerial System Traffic Management (UTM), developed by NASA, would enable civilian Low-Altitude Airspace and Unmanned Aerial System operations.
Two types of UTM systems are envisioned (pdf). The first is a Portable UTM System, which would move from between geographical areas and support operations such as precision agriculture and disaster relief. The second type of system is a Persistent UTM System, which would support low-altitude operations and provide continuous coverage for large geographical areas. A UTM prototype is expected by 2019.
The Drone Interstate
The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest and the fourth-largest river in the United States. A 350 mile drone corridor to the Pacific Ocean could monitor high voltage lines, vessels, oil and gas rail traffic, and natural disasters. The Big One is coming. It pays to be prepared.
Perhaps Quadcopter landing/recharging zones with wireless nodes could be located every 10-20 miles along rivers. Broadband connectivity would enable 2-way telemetry and live video. Continuous on-board
beaconing would indicate the drone’s presence.
Applications in surveys, agricultural monitoring, public safety, maritime and transportation industries are developing as quickly as drone capabilities.
Rivers don’t have to be used as a pipelines for coal and oil. They’re a natural highway for drones.
Sam Churchill is a drone enthusiast, with no association with any drone-related business. He’s retired and lives on the Columbia River near Portland.