UAF research team uses drones to help the community

An ACUASI DJI Drone takes off to assist troopers in conducting a welfare check. (John...
An ACUASI DJI Drone takes off to assist troopers in conducting a welfare check. (John Dougherty/KTVF) (KTVF)
Published: Feb. 10, 2020 at 5:29 PM AKST
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Unmanned aerial systems (UAS), often referred to as drones, are quickly becoming an important tool for many industries and agencies in the U.S. On Friday morning the Alaska State Troopers requested the help of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration, ACUASI, to help them conduct a welfare check.

According to trooper Tim Abbott, they received a call asking them to check in the woods near UAF for an individual who hadn’t been seen for a few weeks. Troopers responded to the area on foot while Lee Winningham, chief pilot for ACUASI flew a drone overhead.

"UAF is just trying to help us out with trying to locate him,” said Abbott.

ACUASI is one of the country's leaders in unmanned aircraft research.

"Our primary objective is to safely integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace. Translation: get unmanned aircraft in to do missions that right now are risks to human pilots,” said Cathy Cahill the director of ACUASI.

ACUASI works with the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct testing on new technologies and rules as well as researching how to use UASs to do everything from deliver supplies to villages that are stormed in to search for missing people. They also help out other state agencies when they need it.

"We are a State of Alaska asset really, so if there is a way we can help them out, we want to. And we don't get many calls but when we do, if it's life and limb, or wellness check or something for protecting people in the community, ACUASI will go,” Cahill said.

While troopers were in the woods searching on foot, Winningham was able to fly ahead of them and direct them over the radio on where they should look.

ACUASI is currently working on getting approval to do more flights beyond the visual line of site as well as potentially delivering medications with a UAS.

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