Unmanned Aircrafts Developed at UAF Get Huge Support from Alaska Lawmakers

With just a few weeks left in this legislative session, lawmakers in Juneau continue to focus on oil tax reform and declining revenues, but some lawmakers see the need diversify our state, seeing huge potential in unmanned aircrafts or drones.

“We need to be looking at other possibilities across the state,” said Rep. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer.  “It’s expected that this industry will grow leaps and bounds in the next three years and it’s important that Alaska get a piece of that pie.”

Representative Hughes is the sponsor of House Concurrent Resolution 6, a resolution that would create a task force of 15 legislators who, according to Hughes, will work together to address privacy concerns among other issues.  The resolution would also recognize the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The drones being developed at UAF are small battery operated machines, weighing about 3-pounds and are able to fly for about 20-minutes at a time, reaching top speeds of 31 miles per hour.

Lawmakers say these drones could be used for things like collecting scientific data, providing support to authorities in emergency situations and tracking weather patterns.  The drones are capable of doing dirty, dull and dangerous work that in some cases couldn’t be done in a manned aircraft.

“Things like flying into volcanoes to identify what the contents of an ash plume actually are,” said Ro Bailey, Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration.  “You can’t do that in a manned aircraft it's just too risky, but if we do that in an unmanned aircraft and lose, well its money, but it's a piece of equipment, not a human life.”

Moving forward, officials say they hope to not only focus on the economic development aspect of UAV’s, but also to commercialize it.

“It's expected that this industry will grow by leaps and bounds in the next 3 years and it's important that Alaska get a piece of that pie," said Hughes.

Contact Blake Essig