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Utah a good home for autonomous drone development, military one reason

Teal Drones system flying in Utah (Photo credit: Deseret News)

Utah, it turns out, is a pretty good place to develop unmanned aerial systems — drones. In the future, they could be used for everything from package delivery to looking through the smoke to help fight wildfires. And autonomous drone development is in our future as well.

Those are drones that use artificial intelligence software that allows them to fly on their own without help from a pilot on the ground.

One reason drone developers are active in Utah is the wide-open landscape near Dugway Proving Ground, which is good for flight testing. Support from the military is another reason Utah drone companies are moving ahead with technology. Utah Business magazine reports the military has supported several drone manufacturers and has worked with local universities such as BYU.

Shawn Milne, who chairs the industry advocacy group Deseret UAS, says future autonomous drones in civilian applications will owe a lot to their military predecessors. He says Utah has many advantages for drone developers, including proximity to software development and manufacturing of lightweight composite structures.

Milne also says Utah has shown a willingness to help with complex legal and regulatory issues such as where autonomous drones might be allowed to fly and how much noise they can make.

For the autonomous drone industry to mature, Milne says drones will have to move away from the current systems that need a single pilot on the ground to autonomous operation, either alone or flying with other drones to accomplish their missions.

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