Nevada Drone Testing Sites Prepare to Launch - 8 News NOW

Nevada Drone Testing Sites Prepare to Launch

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RENO, Nev. -- A new multi-billion dollar industry is on the verge of getting off the ground in Nevada. Drones will soon take to the sky from six testing sites around the state.

Drone America in Reno is waiting for the governor's office to submit a plan to the FAA. That should happen within the next few months and then drone testing can start. The CEO says millions of dollars worth of contracts will go into effect once they're cleared to fly.

Drone America CEO Mike Richards plans for the sky actually started on the water.

"That feeling you get when you help save somebody sticks with you," said Mike Richards, CEO of Drone America.

Ten years ago he was jogging when he saw three teenagers flip their canoe in Lake Tahoe. Pulling the freezing and near-drowned teens onto land gave him an inspiration. He decided to build machines that could help save lives.

"You can stay aloft for over 24 hours with the right payload and provide aerial surveillance for looking for lost souls in wilderness and the ocean," Richards said.

Drone America makes four models of unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV's which got their start in the military. The technology can be used for search and rescue, firefighting, and disaster relief. Richards says, in many ways, the aerial vehicle is superior to piloted aircraft. It can fly longer and costs less to operate.

"These drones do not care that they keep doing it everyday of the week five times a day," he said.

Drone America's aircraft can be flown by controls on the ground or can be pre-programmed to fly on its own. The University of Nevada, Reno and the Desert Research Institute have already partnered with the company to see how they can use the machines. UNR is interested in surveying Nevada's vast amount of land, including mapping out the population of sage-grouse. The bird is being considered for the endangered species list.

"Do the natural resources work that I think corresponds really well with the natural resources problem we have in the state. That includes things like fire and fire management, management of threatened and endangered species," said Mark Walker, dean and director of cooperative extension, UNR.

The Desert Research Institute is looking for a more effective way to deliver silver iodide to clouds.

"It's still very much in a design and development phase," said Jeff Tilley, associate research professor, DRI.

It's called cloud seeding and could help with the Nevada's shortage of water.

"We introduce those small particles into clouds to basically allow for the conversion of super cool liquid water into ice that promotes the formation of snow fall," Tilley said.

How the drones fly and what they're used for will help shape the FAA's rules and regulations for safety and privacy. Richards says the testing will be the beginning of a booming aerospace industry in Nevada.

"Over the next five years we are predicting drone sales and system operations to equal over $100 million," Richards said.

One day drones could be delivering packages or pizza, but Richards is more excited about how many people this new kind of flight could save. Offering aid, even carrying them to safety.

"Transportation and medical supplies, even patients will be possible in the future," He said.

The technology is already here, it's just waiting to get off the ground. The FAA has until Sept. 2015 to decide how commercial drones will fit into the nation's air space. Other countries are already using unmanned aerial vehicles in a number of industries.

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