Boulder Businessmen Targeting Farmers With Drones


“You have large expanses of land in which you are trying to make relatively small, precision measurements, typically through some sort of photography or something. It’s much more efficient to do that from a relatively low altitude with a small, low-flying aircraft.”

Under current law, there are two ways to get FAA approval to operate an unmanned aircraft system, or UAS, as the government calls them. One is to obtain an experimental airworthiness certificate. The second is to secure a “certificate of waiver or authorization,” which are typically awarded to public entities such as law enforcement (the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department has one), CU and other universities, or to governmental operations such as firefighting or border patrol.

InventWorks and Boulder Labs have been testing their drone technology under a third umbrella – a “grey area,” as McKinnon puts it – flying, essentially, as hobbyists, which is permitted if the aircraft remains under 400 feet and steers clear of airports and crowds on the ground.

“Us and thousands others are flying under the recreational exemption,” McKinnon said. “Since we’re not being paid, we’re kind of like hobbyists. The FAA has only told people to stop in a really small number of cases, and that’s where people were egregiously flying over crowds.”

In this time of waiting for new federal regulations to be finalized, McKinnon and Sears continue to fine-tune their product and develop a suite of potential clients, both inside and outside Colorado.

“If it was legal today, we would not be ready, so we do need some development time,” McKinnon said. “But we won’t need two years of development time. We would be easily ready by the 2014 spraying and growing season.”

The reality is that the federal guidelines may not be completed until just after the 2015 season.

“We’re going into this expecting to have to wait out two (more) growing seasons without making any money,” said McKinnon, admitting that having to do so would be “not great.”

Argrow, the drone expert at CU, said McKinnon and Sears have plenty of company across the country, with countless entrepreneurs increasingly anxious to put drones to greater commercial use.

“This is a very pent-up potential industry,” Argrow said. “It has been, for years.”

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Posted by on Sep 3rd, 2013 and filed under Techline. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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