UAS Entrepreneurs Set Sights on North Dakota | Trade and Industry Development

UAS Entrepreneurs Set Sights on North Dakota

May 17, 2016

A lone aircraft flies over a large swath of land checking for abnormalities in crops before landing safely at the feet of its pilot. A classroom of college-level students gain experience on how to operate an unmanned aerial system through simulation. An entrepreneur monitors his phone app to ensure that his unmanned aerial systems (UAS) tech is operating correctly out in the field. 

As the largest site available for flying UAS anywhere in the United States, these are every day occurrences in the state of North Dakota.

Since becoming the nation's first operational test site in 2014, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site has attracted investment from leading aerospace companies including General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Northrop Grumman, the U.S. Air Force and NASA.

This week North Dakota aerospace and aviation leaders are at AUVSI's XPONENTIAL 2016, the largest trade show for the unmanned systems and robotics industry in the world, to showcase the state's continual leadership and ability to attract big names in America's ever-expanding UAS industry. In addition, they are going to be on hand to discuss how entrepreneurs are finding success in the state.

"As thousands of entrepreneurs look for exciting opportunities in the rapidly expanding UAS industry, North Dakota wants them to know that we have the resources and capability to robustly support them in their endeavors," said Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, who also serves as chairman of the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority.

Because of North Dakota's reputation for UAS innovation and location as an FAA test site, the state is already seeing organic growth in startups focused on UAS.

Take Botlink, a cloud-based operations platform that links drones to industry in real time. The platform allows users to capture, process and automatically deliver aerial imagery anywhere, including into existing business software. Botlink also provides automated drone control and safety features such as airspace alerts, manned aircraft avoidance and weather advisories, allowing operators to remain safe and compliant with complex flight regulations.

"We're proud to be developing the next generation of drone technology in North Dakota," said Terri Zimmerman, Botlink CEO.

Many startup companies working in the UAS industry are supported by the University of North Dakota's (UND) Center for Innovation, which was the first university to offer a degree program in unmanned aviation in 2009 and has the largest university training program available for unmanned aircraft systems.

This includes SkyScopes, Smart C2 and Field of View. All of these companies have emerged out of the Center for Innovation within in the last five years and have been able to take advantage of the forward-thinking resources that come from an FAA-designated test site.

The state's 'Research ND' program offers $5 million biannually in grants for research and development to organizations and companies involved in UAS research through cooperation with UND and North Dakota State University (NDSU). North Dakotahas invested more than $34 million to establish a national UAS test site, to establish the Grand Sky UAS Business Park (the nation's first UAS business and aviation park) and to advance North Dakota's position as a hub for the nation's growing UAS industry.

"North Dakota continues to attract innovators in UAS technology, and we welcome the opportunity to foster entrepreneurship here and set the leading example for best practices in this sector," said Robert Becklund, executive director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site.

For more information on North Dakota's UAS leadership visit, and for details on the Northern Plains UAS Test Site visit  



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