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Cleveland County area could be key to state's drone development

Green Valley Farms, which covers 3,500 acres of Cleveland County, will be the test ground for Oklahoma’s ambitious unmanned aerial vehicle project.
by Adam Wilmoth Modified: May 24, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: May 24, 2014

About 3,500 acres near Lexington and Purcell could be key to the future of the state’s unmanned aerial systems industry.

Leaders at the Unmanned Systems Innovation Center at the Tinker Industrial Business Park are working with state and business leaders to develop commercial applications for unmanned aircraft.

Innovation center leaders hope their effort will spawn related companies and jobs.

“These are not just jobs. These are high-paying, high-quality, globally significant jobs,” said Warren Thomas, managing general partner the Tinker Industrial Business Park.

Focus on industry

The innovation center has identified the five key areas it is focusing on for unmanned system use as agriculture, weather, pipelines, utilities and first responders. Applications for all five industries can be tested at Green Valley Farms, which covers 3,500 acres in Cleveland County.

“This is a living laboratory where we are going to do testing for all of these industries in one place,” said Thomas, whose family owns the land.

Unmanned systems technology has the potential to revolutionize many industries, said Janelle Stafford, managing director of the Unmanned Systems Innovation Center.

“When you think of unmanned systems, you probably think of the airplane, but there is so much more than that,” Stafford said.

“The airplane is just a means to the end. It’s the sensors and the payload that makes it such a dynamic industry.”

The world population is expected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050, taxing the global agriculture industry.

“I’ve been in ag all my life, and this is the most exciting time we’ve seen because of the opportunities,” said Bill Buckner, president of the Noble Foundation in Ardmore.

“We will have to process 70 percent more food than today to meet the demands of a growing middle class in India and China. That requires us to do more with less.”

Unmanned aerial systems can be used in various farming applications, ranging from inspecting trees and fences to using specialized sensors to detect which part of a field needs more water or more fertilizer.

First responders

Unmanned aircraft could provide critical information for many applications for first responders, Oklahoma Fire Marshal Robert Doke said. Uses include monitoring ongoing fires, inspecting storm damage and searching for survivors.

Oklahoma firefighters every summer deal with large fires that make it difficult to see what is over the next hill.

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by Adam Wilmoth
Energy Editor
Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector....
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