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NDTO News Article

ND Participates in International UAS Virtual Mission

North Dakota UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) leaders presented in the SelectUSA UAS Virtual Inbound Investment Mission in late January. The mission hosted companies from Europe, Israel, and Turkey to explore the wide variety of UAS technologies, trends, and applications.

North Dakota was the first state to present over the three-day virtual event, which included introductions from Heather Ranck from the ND US Commercial Services Office, ND Lt. Governor Brent Sanford, and Drew Combs, Executive Director of the North Dakota Trade Office (NDTO). Nick Flom, the Executive Director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, Tomas Swoyer, Founder and President of Grand Sky, Brian Carroll, Director of Grand Farm,  and Matt Dunlevy, CEO and Chairman of SkySkopes, each presented on the vitality of UAS technologies and advancements in ND. “Because North Dakota is at the forefront of UAS technology, it was only fitting that North Dakota had the opportunity to present first to the many eager participants. Our state represented itself well with the versatility of applications already being utilized, North Dakota,” said Combs.

SelectUSA hosted this mission with 70 companies represented from 19 countries, totaling 122 pre-screened international delegates. The goal is to provide opportunities for foreign investors into the United States and its leading states and companies at the forefront of UAS technology.

ND is an obvious choice for UAS technology growth for a variety of reasons.  Lt. Governor Sanford presented the overwhelming public and private support for UAS technologies, which feeds increasing interest in this sector for ND. Because the growth of UAS in ND has been organic, there are a wide variety of applications and infrastructure built for many of the technology’s needs and advancements.

The technology surrounding the UAS boom in ND encompasses applications in value-added agriculture, manufacturing, energy (oil/gas and utilities), tourism, aerospace, and defense. This includes both the private and public sectors with many opportunities for collaboration. The University of North Dakota (UND) offers both undergraduate and graduate programs in UAS and produces top-ranking graduates with well-rounded skills, specifically in UAS operation.

Flom of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site highlighted the innovation and versatility of ND skies and testing for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) capabilities. With less congested air traffic, ND is an attractive option with more available airspace. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is working through various programs such as BEYOND to increase BVLOS capabilities and scalable projects in ND airspace. The test sites’ interests are primarily research and development to include remote infrastructure, data reliability, and researching application elements. The site offers seven locations with various terrain, long-range flight operations, and services industries in oil/gas, electric utilities, medical services, rail systems, roadways, and deliveries.

Grand Sky was introduced by Swoyer, and holds the nation’s first and only commercial UAS business and aviation park. Located on the Grand Ford US Airforce Base, the 217 acres are solely purposed to develop, train, and test UAS for commercial use. Home to Northrop Grumman’s ND location, and host to many other companies, Grand Sky works to create opportunities for companies of all sizes to harness the power of UAS.

To have a fully autonomous farm by 2025 is Grand Farm’s goal, explains director Carroll, based in Fargo, ND. With the reality of feeding more than 10 billion people in the future, they are looking for innovation and collaboration to achieve this goal as swiftly as possible. Farming is a skill of the future, says Carroll, and it is going through a digital transformation as we speak. With research and development support across the entire state and large players investing in their vision, more than 200 projects are currently underway on Grand Farm. UAS will play an essential role in sensing, testing, and a wide variety of other aerial applications.  Grand Farm has a campus-like approach and a strong vision for the future, and both help leverage more partnerships, support, and collaboration for success in ND.

Dunlevy of SkySkopes presented the company as a ND UAS success story. Rooted in Grand Forks, ND, they are top players in utilizing UAS technology across the globe. Focusing on mixed-technology services, Skyskopes touts safety as the top priority and harnesses UAS technology to do jobs that take people out of harm’s way.  The company has capabilities using multiple UAS platforms, operating helicopters, and ground-based mobile platforms. They work with technologies in thermal imagery, LiDar, magnetometer surveying, and methane detection. With this versatility, SkySkopes has many applications across a variety of sectors, which continue to increase year after year.

Overall, the story of UAS in ND is nowhere near over, with versatility in testing space, technology, and applications top-of-mind for more than 50 companies in the state. Combs says  “We are excited for what the future holds of UAS in ND, and there is so much growth potential.” With ample support from both the private and public sectors, growth in UAS will continue organically, and innovation will thrive.