UAS Summit & Expo opens with session for student entrepreneurs

By Patrick C. Miller | August 23, 2016

About 150 students in studies related to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) attended the first-ever student access day Monday to lead off the 10th Annual UAS Summit & Expo in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

“This is one of most exciting groups of people at the summit,” said Brian Opp, manager of aerospace business development at North Dakota Department of Commerce, who addressed the students. “You will be the stars of the show. You have the opportunity to identify thrilling careers and a path forward in any direction that you choose.”

The three-day event being held at the Alerus Center continues Tuesday with presentations and updates from NASA, the U.S. Air Force, Elbit Systems, Xcel Energy, the University of North Dakota (UND), the Grand Sky UAS Aviation and Business Park and state and federal officials.

Panels Tuesday will include UAS business leaders who have partnered with NASA and attorneys providing legal perspectives on international law, UAS intellectual property protection and Federal Aviation Administration regulations, such as Part 107. The second day concludes with a fly zone featuring interactive presentations and flight demonstrations.

At Monday’s UAS Student Access Day, Luke Geiver, UAS Magazine editor, led off the speakers with an overview of the burgeoning UAS industry and opportunities it provides. For example, he said Xcel Energy which is conducting research in North Dakota on using UAS to assess storm damage, started with two people in its UAS division and now has more than 30.

“Everyone here going to school at UND or in the region is in a unique spot,” Geiver said. “Grand Forks has become an industry destination. The Northern Plains Test Site in North Dakota is viewed as a leader. A lot of people want to compare themselves to what North Dakota is doing.”

A panel of UND graduates who formed UAS startup companies urged the students to use local resources, network and form partnerships if they’re interested in starting their own businesses in the field.

Matt Dunlevy, CEO of SkySkopes, was the first company in North Dakota to receive a Section 333 exemption from the FAA for commercial operations.

“We will work with those who want to start their own business under Part 107,” he told the students. “We really are a family in this area. We will bring you into the family. If you’re looking to partner and if you have a passion for UAVs, there’s not better place to do it.”

David Dvorak, CEO of Field of View, started a company specializing in sensor payloads six years ago and admitted that it was sometimes a struggle to stay in business during a time when the FAA didn’t allow commercial UAS operations.

“We participated in state business development opportunities,” he said. “We showed how can we use a small unmanned aircraft to fly over farmers’ fields and deliver data in a way that enables them to make better decisions. We did consulting and training.”

Today, Field of View works with exotic UAS sensors and combinations of systems. Dvorak said his company is in the market for electrical and mechanical engineers.

“I was in your shoes last year as a student,” said Christian Smith, founder of Interactive Aerial headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan. “Now I’m in the big world of running a business.”

His company is developing UAS to work indoors in GPS-deprived settings and is working with the oil and gas industry on using unmanned aircraft to inspect the inside of chemical and oil storage tanks.

Smith said students interested in starting their own UAS businesses need to start asking questions and getting involved.

“It such an interesting ecosystem of UAS in Grand Forks,” he noted. “You don’t have to go to California or New York to do those things.”

Jenna Lazenby, director of marketing for Aeroprobe Corp. near Roanoke, Virginia, covered some of the exciting areas in which the company is working with micro-aerodata systems. They include not only the UAS industry, but also the auto racing, aerospace and atmospheric science research.

“Our systems provide a safer way to fly, especially for very low-speed and high-speed flying which requires very accurate measurements,” she said.

Opp pointed to economic studies which show the impact of the UAS industry to be in the tens of billions of dollars. With the FAA’s release of Part 107, he expects to see a spike in the use of unmanned aircraft.

“All that will limit us is our imagination,” he told students. “You can move peoples’ thinking about ways to put UAS technology to work to solve the problems of society, your customers or yourselves.”


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