UND Center for Innovation, UAS company test drone capabilities to spray disinfectants
UND’s Center for Innovation and Research Institute for Autonomous Systems are partnering with local unmanned aerial system industry companies to develop a new mission to combat future pandemics.
Flight tests, operated by SkyScopes, are underway in Grand Forks County to test the abilities for drones to spray disinfectants, deliver supplies and sense body temperatures remotely. North Dakota State University is also a part of the project, providing an aircraft originally developed for agricultural spraying applications.
“I have not seen a partnership like this before, and we have a mission set like I’ve never seen before,” said Matt Dunlevy, president and CEO of SkySkopes.
Amy Whitney, director of the Center for Innovation at UND, said the purpose of the mission is to test each application – spray, deliver and sense – individually, as well as measure the aggregate impact of all three as a coordinated emergency response to a pandemic.
The project was made possible through the Center for Innovation’s Dahl, Melroe and Nash faculty entrepreneur research fund.
Mark Askelson, executive director of RIAS, said the flights will be taking place within line of sight in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
Askelson said that, if spraying is proven to be effective against viral outbreaks and if drones can be used to retrieve and deliver crucial medical supplies, autonomous systems could “completely change the game” for public health by effectively lowering the risk of spreading infections.
During testing, a drone equipped with a sprayer will test dispensing non-toxic substances, such as soapy water and other generic disinfectants, at low altitudes.
“We’re learning how we can do these things to benefit a community in a pandemic like this, but also we’re learning more about how to create safer airspace for these advanced systems,” Askelson said. “This would help us understand how we might use these technologies to really make a difference.”
Gov. Doug Burgum mentioned the project during his daily press briefing on Tuesday, April 21. The governor lauded the private-public innovation as a big reason why North Dakota is a leader in the UAS industry.
“They have got some ideas about how UAVs might help spray water and disinfectant to stop and kill the virus and understand how drones might deliver medical supplies or they could also be used in trying to detect health issues,” Burgum said. “Those are some great examples and some great innovations of how UAS can be used in a health component.”