Unmanned Aircraft, Drone Technology On Display At BA Summit

Friday, March 28th 2014, 2:22 pm
By: Dave Davis

Government agencies, universities and businesses gathered at the NSU's Broken Arrow campus Friday to check out the latest in unmanned aircraft and drone technology.

The Unmanned Aerial Systems Summit featured officials from the FAA, the military, businesses and colleges trying to get a look at the future of drones.

Ben Loh, an Oklahoma State University grad student showed off his UFRO drone.  He said the round-shaped drone is designed for search and rescue.

"So, imagine a person's on the ground, right. This one you can land right close to the person, roll towards him or her, and ask them ‘hey what's your name, what's going on, what happened to you, can you talk,'" Loh explained.

Loh said it's the 33rd version of the UFRO, and there are more to come. He wants to put a video screen and microphone on it, so first responders can see and hear victims.

One thing about the summit, the drones are at different stages. OU students designed a drone to gather weather and atmospheric information. Another one is still in the design phase, and would drop food and supplies into disaster areas.

And something Oklahomans know too much about, the destructive power of tornadoes was also a topic at the summit. The director of the National Severe Storms Lab in Norman believes drones could change everything.

Dr. Steve Koch, NSSL Director, said, "Certainly with this observing capabilities from unmanned aircraft systems, I think we're on the verge of a revolution, in terms of being able to observe the atmosphere."

Koch hopes drones measuring the atmosphere could someday help forecasters issue a tornado warning an hour before it hits, instead of the current average, about 15 minutes.

"We can produce a proper estimate of tornado duration, and track and so forth, out to forty, fifty, sixty minutes ahead of time," Koch said.

If that happens, it could change the perception of drones from spying tools, to lifesavers.

This summit focused on the emerging areas of drones or Unmanned Aerial Systems applications including severe weather research, precision agriculture, oil and gas, and emergency response for wildfires and other disasters.