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North Dakota’s Thriving Unmanned Aerial Systems Sector

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During a briefing organised by the Foreign Press Center, Josh Teigen, the Commissioner for North Dakota’s Department of Commerce, took the stage to discuss the significant role his state plays as the epicentre of drone innovation, earning it the well-deserved reputation as the “Silicon Valley of Drone Innovation.”

Teigen provided an informative update on the thriving uncrewed aerial systems industry, shedding light on the latest advancements that have emerged from North Dakota. Additionally, he emphasised the state’s ambitious efforts in talent attraction and workforce development, showcasing the dedicated initiatives implemented to support the rapid growth of this dynamic sector in the state’s economy. “It’s great to be here and talk a little bit about what we have going on in North Dakota, especially when it comes to drone innovation,” he started.

North Dakota, a small state in the United States, heavily emphasises two key sectors: energy and agriculture. These industries have a significant role in the state’s economy, collectively contributing to around 70% of its overall economic output.

North Dakota holds the distinction of hosting the largest test site for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) in the United States. However, its accomplishments in the UAS sector go beyond mere size. North Dakota has positioned itself at the forefront of UAS technology by pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of flight operations.

Specifically, the state has taken a pioneering leap by successfully conducting flights that go beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). While many entities focus on UAS development within the limits of line-of-sight, North Dakota has secured full Future Farmers of America (FAA) exemption, enabling it to pave the way for BVLOS flights. This remarkable achievement showcases North Dakota’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of innovation and cementing its reputation as a hub of UAS excellence.

In recognition of the unique operational requirements of unmanned systems, North Dakota has taken an approach by establishing its own dedicated network exclusively for drone operations. Unlike conventional aviation networks, which may not adequately cater to the needs of unmanned systems, North Dakota has recognised the necessity of a specialised infrastructure to support the growing UAS industry.

This state-of-the-art network is designed to seamlessly communicate with both FAA air traffic control systems and ground operation systems, ensuring a cohesive integration of UAS operations. By creating this bespoke network, North Dakota aims to facilitate the successful execution of the first-ever beyond-visual-line-of-sight mission, further solidifying its position as a frontrunner in UAS technology and innovation.

In addition, North Dakota takes pride in being the home of the nation’s first dedicated business park specifically tailored for the UAS industry. This innovative park serves as a focal point for all the ground operations required to support air autonomy, a crucial aspect that often goes overlooked.

The same could occur in the agricultural sector, where the system has the potential to detect crop diseases, monitor moisture levels, and address any other agricultural concerns. Implementing such a system can introduce autonomy to farming and agriculture, enhancing productivity, profitability, and cost-effectiveness. Additionally, it has the potential to save significant time by precisely targeting specific areas in need of fertiliser, rather than applying it to the entire field.

Rather than perceiving it solely as a distinct industry vertical within the state, North Dakota recognises the expansive reach of the UAS sector, intersecting and augmenting various key sectors of the economy. This holistic approach acknowledges the transformative potential of unmanned systems, facilitating advancements and innovations across multiple domains and paving the way for unprecedented growth and collaboration in areas ranging from energy production to agricultural practices and from transportation to logistical operations.

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