From Wright Brothers to commercial drones, NC leading the way

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The Wright Brothers made North Carolina first in flight and now the Triangle area is leading the way in making the state first in a new kind of flight – commercial drone flight.

Drone flight for commercial use is an infant industry but it’s on the cusp of exploding.

Having started as a drone hobbyist, Travis Jack soon saw the potential of using drones for commercial purposes so he started a business called Flyboy Aerial Photography.

“I can see a point where we’re heading toward (drones) being used for more applications than they are used for now,” said Jack.

“We do aerial mapping and surveys,” he added. “We can work alongside a licensed surveyor to do aerial surveying. We do promotional video – both regular ground-based and air-based video.”

Companies like Amazon wants to use drones to deliver packages more quickly in as few as 30 minutes. And, others think there’s a great public safety benefit using drone technology.

Researchers say we ought to be using drones to send medical equipment like automated defibrillators, especially in rural area or when ambulances are otherwise delayed. That way an EMS dispatcher can help guide a person at the scene on how to use it until help arrives.

“Depending on the type of heart attack, the probability of survival if you go past 11 minutes-reduces to practically zero,” said Dr. Maria Mayorga of N.C. State.

Ben Rachunock, an undergrad industrial system engineering researcher at N.C. State, is researching how to best get medical supplies on site through drones. “You can very easily imagine if it can carry a defibrillator, it can carry glucose for someone having a diabetic episode or an asthma inhaler for someone with asthma,” he said.

A product called the Aerial Electric Visual Assistant which was developed by Olaeris, a Raleigh-based company, would let first responders see what’s on the ground while the drone is on the way.

But not everyone is sure that drones should carry medical equipment.

In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration won’t allow autonomous drone fights. In other words, the drone has to be with-in sight of its operator. And that is part of what’s holding up the widespread use of drones.

Another hurdle revolves around fears of overcrowded skies and drones crashing into commercial aircraft.

“It’s not just the unmanned aircraft we’re worried about,” said Kyle Snyder, director of NextGen Air Transportation at N.C. State. “It’s also manned aircraft and maintaining that separation so that everyone is connected and everyone is sharing what they need to.”

While Drone developers and the FAA work on collision avoidance systems, North Carolina is working on trying to become THE center of the drone industry – in a niche between toys and military drones.

It’s estimated that it could be an $8 billion industry.

“It could potentially mean tens of thousands of new jobs and additional employment for the state of NC,” said Scott Lucas, the vice president of Olaeris. “When you look outside the drone or UAV industry, there’s a bunch of auxiliary companies that need to come along as well.”

Lucas predicts we’ll start to see some practical, public safety applications, such as swimmer safety along the coast to prevent shark attacks, in about six months.

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