Drones aren’t just for military use. And it’s becoming a bigger and bigger business and energy attraction in Oklahoma.
Witness the recent Unmanned Aerial Systems Tech Forum held in Broken Arrow where 225 researchers, educators and business leaders were on hand.
So was Gov. Mary Fallin.
“It’s exciting to see all the investment that we’re getting with UAS technology,” she said in an opening address. “It used to be when you talked about a drone, you might associate it with military use or maybe some hobbyist who might have a drone and fly it around.”
But times have changed. So has the interest in drones as more and more businesses, including utilities are making them applicable to different industries. Just this week, Xcel Energy announced it had received permission to use drones for ‘beyond line of sight’ use in the inspection of its power lines that stretch across Colorado. It is the same company with more than 200 miles of transmission lines that cross the Oklahoma Panhandle.
Oklahoma will be home to two drone makers. Kratos Defense and Security Solutions Inc. of California will relocate to Oklahoma. It is a jet-powered drone manufacturer. Nevada’s Valkyrie Systems Aerospace is also moving to Oklahoma.
The Governor said they will be joining at least 50 UAS companies already located in the state. She cited a study by McKinsey and Co., a global management firm which said the drone activity in Oklahoma grew from a $40 million value in 2012 to nearly $1 billion last year.
The estimated impact of the industry by 2026 could be as high as $46 billion with the development of commercial drones.
“Innovation changes so quickly — new parts come out, new issues, new things to deal with politically, environmentally, aerospace-wise,” she said. “You have to really stay on top of these issues. We’re very, very proud of the 11 members that serve on that” advisory council.
The Tulsa World reported the Broken Arrow forum was part of the UAS Cluster Initiative which is funded through a contract with the Small Business Administration. The Initiative is designed to help companies in Oklahoma and Kansas to work jointly in gaining access to technology, global capital and advanced business models.
“With Broken Arrow having this burgeoning UAS industry — between our flight simulation companies and several startups we have that are growing quickly in this area — we wanted to bring this here,” said Kinnee Tilly, senior vice president of the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce. “We wanted to bring the focus on what we do in Broken Arrow.