Officials at the Washington State Department of Commerce are working to create an Unmanned Systems Industry Council to foster commercial drone operations in the state.
Plans for the council are being drawn up by John Thornquist, the director of the state’s Office of Aerospace; and Joseph Williams, state director of economic development for the information and communication technology sector. An organizing symposium will be held in Seattle on Sept. 19, Thornquist told GeekWire today.
“It’s going to be selective, for the businesses that are players in this industry,” he said. “It’s not just about the vehicles. It’s also about the tech companies that are behind it.”
Thornquist said the council would bring together state officials, industry representatives and academic experts on unmanned aircraft systems, also known as drones or UAS’s (or unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, for that matter). “The idea is to create a forum whose goal is to increase commercialization in this subsector of aerospace,” he said in an email.
Thornquist noted that Washington state’s UAS industry is growing, especially in Puget Sound and Klickitat County. One of the nation’s leaders in the UAS sector, a Boeing subsidiary known as Insitu, is headquartered in Bingen in Klickitat County, on the banks of the Columbia River.
Insitu specializes in military-grade surveillance UAVs such as the ScanEagle, but smaller commercial drones are rapidly taking over the spotlight, in Washington state and elsewhere. For example, Amazon Prime Air is working on its own fleet of delivery drones.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s rules for commercial operations with small UAVs, released last month, don’t yet allow for the kind of delivery system Amazon has been talking about. However, the FAA says expanding the rules to allow for drone delivery is the subject of a “very active research program.”
Amazon isn’t the only Washington-based company that’s interested in drone applications. Late last year, Microsoft applied for an FAA exemption to fly small UAVs for research purposes. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., meanwhile, is interested in developing a drone-based system for game management and wildlife conservation. And Echodyne – a Bellevue-based startup that’s backed by Microsoft’s other co-founder, Bill Gates – is working on a detect-and-avoid radar system for use on delivery drones.