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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

“We need something to launch to 400 feet,” Doke said. “We just need to get above the smoke and see what’s in front of the fire. Is there a large farming operation or a nursing home?”

When available, manned helicopters provide that information today, but Doke said unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, would be safer and less expensive.

“The UAV is a unique tool,” he said. “All we need is the green light. When we get the green light, it’s going to be a godsend for us.”

The systems also could be helpful in evaluating storm and tornado damage. Equipped with an ultraviolet sensor, a unmanned vehicles could help identify injured people buried under debris while being quiet enough to not disturb searches on the ground.

Weather and utilities data

Unmanned aircraft also could provide information on weather patterns that could be used to help forecast and understand storms.

Unmanned aircraft could provide more precise measurements than what is currently received from weather balloons, said James Grimsley, president of the Unmanned Systems Alliance of Oklahoma.

“It would allow our ability to predict to get much better,” he said. “If you can improve certainty and get much more precise about the likelihood of tornadoes and outbreaks, the public will listen more.”

Drones also can be used to inspect utility lines for regular monitoring and following storms.

“UAVs will be good for things that are dull and dangerous — either things that will put humans in harm’s way or things that are so dull, they don’t need humans there,” Grimsley said.

Utility companies must regularly inspect the power lines that cross the state, often through rural, hard-to-reach areas, searching for tree limbs that are too close to the lines and any other potential problem.

In a similar way, unmanned aircraft also could be used for pipeline safety.

Pipeline companies often use small planes to fly over pipelines as they look for leaks and spills.

Unmanned systems could provide the same data for less money, said Thomas, with the Tinker Industrial Business Park. The drones also could be equipped with cameras and sensors to provide even more information.

“These unmanned systems can get down low to where the pipelines are and fly over with sensors and optics and get far better data than the methods used today,” he said.

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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