Drones to Study Wildlife in Alaska, Where Next?

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The drone has come of age, and with it the possibility that manufacturers can make money from non-military applications. While Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos’s dream of using drones for deliveries could be years off, the FAA has begun to certify drones for civilian functions as mundane as checking for wildlife.

According to the agency:

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration today announced that the University of Alaska’s unmanned aircraft system (UAS) test site is the second of six to become operational.

The FAA has granted the University of Alaska Fairbanks a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) authorizing flights by an Aeryon Scout small UAS for animal surveys at its Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range Complex in Fairbanks. The COA is effective for two years. The team began the wildlife flight operations today.

“Alaska has a history of innovation in manned aviation, and now they are bringing that pioneering spirit into the unmanned aircraft arena as well,” said U. S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We look forward to the contributions they and the other test sites will make toward our efforts to ensure the safe and efficient integration of UAS into our nation’s skies.”

The main purpose of the Alaskan wildlife operation is to show how a UAS can accurately locate, identify, and count large wild animals, such as caribou, reindeer, musk ox and bear for survey operations requested by the state of Alaska. Flights are taking place at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Large Animal Research Station (LARS).

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Drone use is expected to explode, according to PBS:

The FAA had projected that as many as 7,500 commercial drones could be flying within five years after gaining access to U.S. airspace.

While Aeryon Labs, which makes the drones used in Alaska, is a relatively small company, huge companies such as Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) and Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT) also have products currently in production. While drones are primarily for military use, as military spending falls, the civilian market may become essential to their future success.

Drones in the air above Alaska. Which state will be next?

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