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Unmanned vehicles to take off

Reservation part of Pan-Pacific Test Site


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Jim Manion, general manager for Warm Springs Power and Water Enterprises, and Sandra Danzuka, of Warm Springs Ventures, examine a small, hand-launched unmanned aerial vehicle, the Maverick, made by Prioria, which could be among the UAVs testing on the reservation.In the future, unmanned aerial vehicles may be checking local forests for fires and pests, monitoring the moisture in crops and searching for lost hikers and campers.

The Warm Springs Reservation will be at the vanguard for testing UAVs for a variety of uses as one of three federally approved test sites in Oregon, all part of the Pan-Pacific Test Site, which includes Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii.

"I really think it will put the region on the map," said Jeff Anspach, the CEO of Warm Springs Ventures, which has been working to obtain approval to test on the reservation for over three years.

Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration announced the selection of six UAV test sites across the country, including the Pan-Pacific Test Site, which offers the most diverse geography, climate and vegetation of the six.

The approval sets in motion a flurry of activity on the reservation. "For us, I think the first half of the year is going to be all about setting up operations and a test range, and then trying to leverage the test range to attract industry to the area," said Anspach, noting that the reservation offers geographic diversity, inlcuding forest lands, watersheds, high desert terrain, and alpine areas.

"There's a lot of environments and a lot of different climates as well," he said. "We're pretty excited about the opportunity to leverage some of that to attract business here."

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs were among a handful of partners involved in the team that put the application together, according to Janet Brown, Jefferson County manager for Economic Development for Central Oregon.

EDCO formed and led the initial team trying to gain approval for testing UAVs four years ago, and then brought in Oregon State University and the tribes, Brown explained.

"As we got closer to the application process, we set up a more formal team, and partnered with Alaska and Hawaii, because it became apparent that there was a lot of competition across the United States," she said, adding, "so we wanted to diversify the types of test areas there were."

The Pan-Pacific Test Site includes mountains, valleys, rivers, high desert, Arctic tundra, volcanoes, forests, agricultural areas, and tropical islands — by far the most diverse of the six sites. The other sites are in North Dakota, New York, Nevada, Virginia and Texas.

"This is very exciting news," said Brown, who has already been contacted by companies contacting her about locating in the area.

The prospective companies could include those that manufacture the unmanned aerial vehicles in all different sizes, and "all the systems they carry: motors, cameras, things like air quality sensors, infrared sensors," she said.

The potential jobs aren't confined to manufacturing. "Once you get the reading, or picture, there are computer technicians to collect data and turn it into something that the research that is being done can use, and pilots that control them," she said.

"We would love to have them locate in Warm Springs and Madras, Culver and Metolius, or Crooked River Ranch," said Brown.

Anspach hopes that the advantages the tribes offer will convince some companies to locate on the reservation. Besides the attraction of Kah-Nee-Ta Resort, he believes that Warm Springs Composite Products could manufacture products, and companies could obtain 8(a) certification from the Small Business Administration, to help small, disadvantaged businesses compete.

"Ultimately, what we're hoping for is that industry will see the value of the Warm Springs range and want to snuggle up close to it and have a permanent presence," said Anspach, pointing out that there is already a "small, but vibrant UAV industry cluster" in Oregon.

"I think it can have an immediate impact," he said. "The big bottleneck is getting access to airspace. The Department of Defense has really been using up all the available air space."

Anspach is eager to watch the migration from DOD applications to commercial applications, such as agricultural, fire suppression, first responders, and natural resource management — all of which could be useful locally.

"UAV technology is really going to give us access to more data," he said. "With more accurate, timely and cost-effective data, we'll be able to make better decisions."

In the next 10-20 years, Anspach expects to see widespread use of four types of unmanned vehicles: aerial, on land, submersible and surface (on top of water).

"Those four vehicles are going to give us a lot more data than we've ever been able to get," he said. "The human factor has always been the limiting factor."

Brown has been to UAV workshops and conferences, where she has learned about the future applications. For example, she said, "Some of the imaging cameras above the crops were able to tell three or four days in advance if the crop or tree or field was in stress, so the grower could make changes in water, fertilizer, chemicals — whatever they need to do to correct it quickly. A person walking in the field could not tell."

On the reservation, the tribes will be working to get infrastructure to test sites, including all-weather access, a source of electricity and broadband, and some type of shelter, Anspach said. The other two Oregon sites, Tillamook and Pendleton, already have infrastructure.

Anspach said there will be a focus on safety, security and privacy, with the UAVs operating over unpopulated areas. "It's not going to be flying around willy-nilly," he said.



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