Oil and gas — and agriculture, too — have helped position northwestern North Dakota for the first expansion of the state’s beyond visual line of sight network. That’s a giant step forward for drones in North Dakota, and a giant leap for the Williston-Watford City region, one that should position the West as a key testing and development ground for the latest disruptive technology.
Drones are coming to the West, and they will bring change not to just to the MonDak but to the world at large. North Dakota is one of a handful of states that’s helping the FAA define the future operation of unmanned aerial aircraft.
These cowboys of the future aren’t likely to wear cowboy hats or ride horses, of course. But they will, like the cowboys of old, inhabit a world where a beautiful blue sky is the only meaningful limit.
Among drone projects already under way in Williams and McKenzie County, Isight Drone Services is coordinating with the Western Dakota Energy Association’s WISE Roads project to help the county refine road closures. It’s also working on a project to monitor well remediations in the west, along with several other applications.
Agriculture, too, is getting in on the drone game. At the Williston Research Extension Center, Gautam Pradhan is working out procedures and protocols to expand the data collection capability of drones for agricultural research. Isight Drone Services, meanwhile, is interested in flying drones over ranches, to see what kinds of things the devices can do for livestock producers.
These are, of course, are just the beginning hint of what drones might do in the future, once there is an established beyond visual line of sight network for safe commercial drone operation.
Drones might inspect pipelines, monitor gas emissions, and help keep security tight on sensitive infrastructure. They could also find herbicide resistant weeds, monitor the health of livestock with infrared imaging, and provide soil and field analysis.
Eventually, the plan is for every area of the state to have access to beyond visual line of sight capabilities.
The North Dakota legislature approved $28 million in 2019 to build out a beyond visual line of sight network and position the state as a leader in the drone industry.
Each BVLOS drone radar system will be able to “see” everything flying in the air above 400 feet for a 65-mile radius. That will allow drones and aircraft to avoid each other, and thus fly the skies safely.