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ND UAS Coalition runs COVID-19 spray, delivery program

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SkySkopes is leading a coalition of some of the most reputable UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) entities in the world to fight COVID-19. UAS missions have been successfully executed over the last week and includes organizations such as the University of North Dakota Medical School, the UND Center for Innovation, UND Research Institute for Autonomous Systems (RIAS), and L3Harris. As a partnership across multiple universities in North Dakota such as NDSU, the operation is also a collaboration with Grand Forks County and Emergency Managers in an example of a Public-Public-Private Partnership.

SkySkopes is a professional Drone Service Provider focused on bringing innovative solutions to the energy sector. Incorporated in October of 2014, the company is one of the top five Drone Service companies in the world.

“We have some high-tech ways that can help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Right here in North Dakota we consider ourselves to be a leader in unmanned aerial systems across the nation, and SkySkopes, a UAS company in Grand Forks, is helping with answering the coronavirus question,” North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum said.

The mission set was reviewed Dr. Parag Kumar M.D., a clinical professor and North Dakota physician with a background in national pandemic response.

“We are proud to be part of this excellent team that has enabled the evaluation of how advanced technologies can help in times of crises, such as the one we’re in now. This evaluation helps us establish safe and effective means for reducing risk, improving community health and is perfectly aligned with RIAS’ mission of creating autonomous systems that serve society,” said Professor Mark Askelson, Executive Director of RIAS.

 “This is one of the most socially responsible reasons I have seen to have used commercial UAS,” said Matt Dunlevy, president and CEO of SkySkopes. “This UAS coalition has joined forces with great conviction and magnitude. They’ve come together to fly a set of advanced missions never before flown in concert, and it all just so happens to be real world. It is one of the most remarkable things I’ve seen in the world of UAS. This is what we’ve trained for over half a decade, and it just so happened that we were flying beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) for disaster relief for the Grand Forks flood at the same time.”

SkySkopes’ pilots, some of the most highly certified and experienced in the world, have been testing spraying disinfecting fluids using UAS onto facilities such as playgrounds so as to prevent children gathering there from contracting any instances of COVID-19 lingering on surfaces. “Using UAS drone sprayers to help local communities get children back outside after this COVID-19 disruption would be just one more positive use for drones,” said John Nowatzki, a UAS specialist at North Dakota State University’s Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department.

The company has also been flying UAS to test delivery of medical supplies to relevant locations, also demonstrating they can get basic necessities to people sheltering themselves from the virus and taking social distancing precautions. All simultaneously, SkySkopes has been using the most advanced commercially available UAS Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) and thermal sensors to detect the heightened temperatures of people participating in the research. From a safe distance to the remote pilot, the drone sensor is a way to see if someone has a fever consistent with the symptoms of the novel coronavirus.

“This operation is an opportunity to demonstrate novel uses for UAS technology to address public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Amy Whitney, Director of the UND Center for Innovation. “This mission is a case study in how the Center for Innovation helps advance innovation and provide commercialization support through the development of university/industry partnerships.”

The operations represent a convergence of technologies, coincidentally timed with new FAA guidelines that enable development of new ways to fight pandemics. The planning also incorporated the L3Harris HUBNet deployed to Hillsboro, ND, a predecessor to the technology soon to be deployed throughout the state of North Dakota on a statewide UAS infrastructure. “These flights pushed the limits of new techniques and procedures to evaluate using UAS during a pandemic. I appreciated the opportunity to help do the ops planning and being able to work with the SkySkopes team again. I see many opportunities for small communities like Hillsboro to benefit from these research flights in the future,” said Terry Sando, Mayor of the city of Hillsboro, ND.

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