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Natural disaster simulation to test drones' use for inspecting infrastructure

North Dakota Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford speaks at the Drone Biz luncheon at the Grand Forks Herald in Grand Forks on Thursday, May 11, 2017. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)

North Dakota leaders and companies connected to the use of drones in the state will test a safety plan for using unmanned aircraft to inspect infrastructure after a natural disaster.

Xcel Energy, along with unmanned drone company SkySkopes, aircraft manufacturer Elbit Systems and various North Dakota governmental agencies, will conduct a simulation in late May or early June near Mayville, N.D., in which drones will be used to survey damage to transmission lines. The results of the test will be presented at the Drone Focus Conference in Fargo, which runs May 31 through June 1.

"We are growing the industry, and it isn't just in Grand Forks. It's about the whole state," Xcel's North Dakota Principal Manager Mark Nisbet said Thursday during the Drone Biz luncheon at the Grand Forks Herald.

Xcel earlier this year announced it would partner with the Federal Aviation Administration to research how drones can be used to inspect infrastructure by flying drones along more than 20,000 miles of transmission line in 10 states, including North Dakota and Minnesota. The partnership is expected to present data that will help the FAA determine if drones can be used beyond the line of sight to inspect electrical grids.

Nisbet said the simulation planned for later this month or early June will test how commands and communication move from local entities in Traill County to the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, who oversees the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks.

Sanford touted North Dakota's success in the drone industry, saying other states are trying to replicate what it has done as a "national leader in the UAS industry." He also noted the drone industry has helped North Dakota economically as it goes through a downturn in oil and ag commodity prices.

"Diversification like the growing UAS industry is very key in making us better through the ups and downs," Sanford said.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

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