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Epicenter of UAS: First-of-its-kind center will be integral to coordinating unmanned systems in North Dakota

Gov. Doug Burgum, who spoke during the Thursday afternoon ceremony in Grand Forks, said the operations center is an example of how North Dakota invests in technology to “create opportunities for citizens and businesses and diversify our economy.”

UAS ribbon cutting Burgum
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, center, cuts the ribbon for the new Vantis Mission and Network Operations Center on Thursday, June 16, 2022, at GrandSky Business and Aviation Park near Grand Forks.
Sydney Mook / Grand Forks Herald
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EMERADO, N.D. — A new, first-of-its-kind command center will be integral to coordinating beyond-visual-line-of-sight for North Dakota’s unmanned aircraft system.

Vantis, North Dakota’s statewide unmanned aircraft BVLOS system, held the grand opening of its Mission and Network Operations Center (MNOC) on Thursday at GrandSky Business and Aviation Park, just outside of Grand Forks. As the command center of the entire network, the center will be crucial to coordinating flights and ensuring safety for UAS flights.

Gov. Doug Burgum, who spoke during the ceremony, said the operations center is an example of how North Dakota invests in technology to “create opportunities for citizens and businesses and diversify our economy.”

“With Vantis, we’re creating a platform for entrepreneurs and innovators to develop new products and for the government and private sector to offer better services to the public. Today’s grand opening further cements North Dakota as a destination for UAS operations,” he said.

While he noted the phrase is overused, Burgum said he believes the state is building the “Silicon Valley of drones” in and around Grand Forks, but the industry is still in its early days and has room to grow.

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“We are on our way to making North Dakota the epicenter of UAS in the United States and in the world. But for us to continue on that we need to have more milestones like we're having today,” he said.

Trevor Woods, executive director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS), which administers Vantis, said with the center, the organization has “the technology to monitor and control the remote infrastructure, enabling the entire operation. The MNOC will be integral to coordinating safe, repeatable BVLOS flights across North Dakota, and scale-able to larger regions.”

For now, the network is operating in mainly northwest North Dakota, including the Watford City and Williston area. Woods likened the network to the start of cell phone service, where at first service was available in just a small area and then expanded over time. If you go too far out of range for cell phone service then you lose service; similarly if the unmanned vehicles move too far out of range, then it can be difficult and dangerous to operate them.

“As we scale the Vantis system to other parts of North Dakota, just as a cell phone carrier, you can have more coverage and go to more areas to get service,” Woods said.

Burgum noted there are real-life applications for technology like this. Earlier this spring, northwest North Dakota faced a massive blizzard and ice storm that left 50,000 people without power. Drones were used to locate snapped power lines and downed poles, which made the process easier for the power company to coordinate its response.

“Disaster recovery capability was something that … wouldn't have been part of this speech a month ago, but I've seen it in action,” he said.

Many legislators and a number of other industry leaders were in attendance Thursday. Famed pilot Clay Lacy also attended. Attendees had the opportunity to tour the facilities and see a static display of UAS that are flying on the system.

Clay Lacy
Pilot Clay Lacy attended the grand opening of the Vantis Mission and Network Operations Center on Thursday, June 16, at GrandSky Business and Aviation Park.
Sydney Mook / Grand Forks Herald

Vantis signed a long-term agreement with GrandSky and began construction on the MNOC early last year, according to a company news release. The company is working with tech company Thales as it expands the buildout to include other areas of the state. Thales was selected as the Vantis system integrator and long-term partner to build out the system.

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“Today marks a significant step toward the safe and efficient integration of drones into our airspace system," said Todd Donovan, vice president of Airspace Mobility Solutions for the Americas at Thales. "With the MNOC up and running, drones will deliver real-world economic and social benefits to North Dakota citizens, at scale.”

Related Topics: DOUG BURGUM
Sydney Mook has been the managing editor at the Herald since April 2021. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook has been with the Herald since May 2018 and was first hired as the Herald's higher education reporter where she covered UND and other happenings in state higher education. She was later promoted to community editor in 2019.


For story pitches contact her at smook@gfherald.com or call her at 701-780-1134.
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