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Why was this tailgate historical?

10/1/2018
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(Video provided by Botlink)

Over the weekend tailgaters at the Fargodome might not have realized it, but NDSU Bison fans participated in an FAA milestone.

In March of this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation chose 10 regional programs to participate in the Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program. Local governments and private companies proposed different drone programs in an effort to increase and improve the use of unmanned aircraft in U.S. airspace.

These programs have worked on delivering medical supplies in Nevada and fighting mosquitoes in Florida. In Oklahoma, drones dropped dried corn into traps used to capture wild pigs that were destroying crops.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation was chosen to demonstrate how drones can be operated safely over people in any environment, whether it be rural, urban, indoors or outdoors.

Botlink is one of the partners working with the NDDOT in this program. Their mission is to enable safe drone operations, and the Fargo-based company received a waiver from the FAA that allowed them to fly over people and demonstrate that it can be done safely and reliably.

The mission (watch an edited clip above or here) was the first public mission of a drone being flown in U.S. airspace over a crowd. CNN worked with Botlink to livestream and broadcast the tailgating event at the Fargodome.

Unfortunately, rain and wind grounded the drones for part of the event. Safety has to come first when flying over crowds.

In addition to keeping an eye on the weather, experienced operators certified by the FAA, quality batteries, and software to alert operators when batteries need to be swapped out is how the company kept this operation safe.

“The drone itself is relatively lightweight and has a parachute that deploys automatically if it senses that the drone is dropping out of the sky,” says Terri Zimmerman, CEO of Botlink. “In addition, the drone will be flown at a minimum altitude to ensure that our operators and the safety systems of the drone have adequate time to respond in the event of an emergency.”

If this program can demonstrate that drones and people can co-exist safely and productively, there are several ways we may see drones being used. For media organizations, imagine capturing games, demonstrations, rallies or other news events that cover large spaces with big crowds.

For law enforcement, video footage from drones can be used to maintain situational awareness of the big picture, Zimmerman explains. “A drone can quickly give law enforcement an eye in the sky to help guide their response,” and at the fraction of the costs of a helicopter or other airborne assets.

While we had fun watching college football fans rallying for their local team, there are some real-life changes to how we capture crowds and events that could come out of this test.

Related: Explained: A US pilot program for unmanned aircraft

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