Drone research flies in northern Nevada

Kirk Ellern, co-founder of Above NV, a drone surveying and mapping start-up, teaches an aerial robotics class through Truckee Meadows Community College.

Kirk Ellern, co-founder of Above NV, a drone surveying and mapping start-up, teaches an aerial robotics class through Truckee Meadows Community College.

Engineers from the University of Nevada, Reno and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration next month will begin doing as many as five test flights a day of unmanned aerial vehicles at Reno Stead Airport.

The tests mark the ramp up of Nevada’s status as one of six sites authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct research and trials of UAVs, better known as drones.

The flights aren’t the only thing taking off in the state’s burgeoning drone industry.

UNR’s Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center located in the new Innevation Center downtown, is expanding and several drone start-ups, including two in Reno, are in the market now.

“The College of Engineering is the fastest growing college at UNR. With Tesla and Switch and Apple and this. You’ve got to have those skill sets if you want to be a part of it,” said Warren Rapp, director of business at NAASIC. “That’s really what’s exciting about it. It’s a new chapter for Nevada.”

Nevada is helping the FAA test a traffic management system for drones called the UTM so the unmanned vehicles can safely maneuver the regulated airspace.

The first phase tests of the UTM, which was developed by NASA, took place last year in Crows Landing, California, near Turlock. The upcoming flights in Stead will comprise the second phase, or second build of the system, said Rapp.

NAASIC also conducted flights in Hawthorne last year, primarily to test drones carrying a new camera system under windy and rainy conditions.

NAASIC also added a grant writer, Susan Welsh, and a new technical director, Sesh Comurri, a former professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Oklahoma. They join Rapp and Richard Kelley, the center’s chief engineer.

The center is also sponsoring the UAS Search and Rescue Symposium in Reno, April 6-8.

Search and rescue, whether in wild fires, floods or other types of natural disasters, is a major application for drones.

Part of NAASIC’s mandate is to work with entrepreneurs, including two new Reno start-ups, Above NV and Carbon Autonomous.

Above NV, located in the CUBE at Midtown, a Reno business incubator, was founded by Kirk Ellern and Rob Dunbar.

“We’re concentrating on mapping and surveying using drones,” said Ellern.

The company is focusing on what Ellern calls the science of the Great Basin, which includes wildlife tracking, land management and geological work.

“Our objective is to provide services to entities that cannot break the rules,” said Ellen.

That includes state agencies and businesses who want to use drones for various applications but don’t want to shoulder the liability or contend with all the permitting.

Carbon Autonomous is moving into drones. The manufacturer makes custom-made carbon fiber parts, mostly for race cars but increasingly for aircraft.

“We build airframes for other people and also provide training,” said Dan Cassidy, vice president of business development. “We have our own vehicles and can service others.”

The company’s drone is the CA1 designed for imaging and data analysis.

The company’s manufacturing is in Vacaville, Calif., but Cassidy said they hope to move the operations to northern Nevada depending on incentives from the state. The company was meeting with the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada last week.

This week Carbon Autonomous is announcing a deal with a Swedish company called SmartPlanes to be a distributor of its drones used for humanitarian applications.

Carbon Autonomous employs six people with 60 years of flying experience between them, said Cassidy.


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