UAV Lab at IYK sees mini boom

Homegrown company ready to roll out STEM education UAVs for at-risk youth

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

UAV Lab at IYK sees mini boomAlthough the FAA is still months away from a decision on where to locate sites for unmanned aerial system testing, the Cal UAS Portal at Inyokern Airport is already emerging as a center for industry development.

According to Eileen Shibley, executive director of the China Lake Alliance and coordinator of the effort to promote Inyokern as a location for unmanned vehicle development, the UAV Lab at IYK already has three tenants and is in talks with three additional firms to set up local operations.

One of those first companies is Wilson Defense Systems, a local start-up that designs and builds unmanned systems for commercial applications ranging from the filming industry to security.

“When we first started this process a year and a half ago, one thing we looked at was local companies already doing UAV work,” said Shibley.

“Paul Guggenbeuhl called me early on about his company. But when I first heard the name, I assumed they were primarily a military contractor. Come to find out, they offer a ton of commercial applications, which is what we’ve been focused on, so we began working together in a shared interest in developing a network of private-sector UAV companies based out of Inyokern.”

Shibley said that the reasons the Alliance initially identified IYK as a premier spot for UAV testing — clear skies, geographic diversity, access to restricted airspace, proximity to a world-class RDT&E center — are the very reasons that cause companies to take up residence at IYK ahead of any official designation.

Guggenbeuhl came up with the idea of selling affordable UAVs for commercial applications shortly after his retirement.

“UAVs cost upward of $100,000 or more for the military,” said Paul’s son, Ryan. “There are specific needs and processes in DOD that drive up the cost of the units. But he figured out a way to build then for $10,000 or less for some of the applications that the film industry or police and other non-military agencies are highly interested in.”

Guggenbeuhl said that operating outside of a bureaucratic environment has given his company the flexibility to customize systems to fit virtually any need its customers can identify.

“And another thing that comes with that flexibility is speed,” said Shibley. “Say someone wants to conduct a search and rescue mission. Wilson Systems can be called and have something out in a fairly fast turnaround time.”

“Military work is extremely sophisticated, which is part of what slows things down,” said Ryan. “For customers who want a relatively simple operation, we can design, program and build something that almost anyone can operate.”

The Guggenbeuhls, along with their financial and consulting partners, are about to roll out a system for the YMCA of San Diego that coincides with the national push for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.

“It’s absolutely fascinating what they are doing!” said Shibley. “They are actually going to build a fleet of small UAVs that will be used to train young men in aeronautical, mechanical and electrical engineering.”

Ryan said that Wilson is putting together low-cost quad copter packages that boys can assemble, program and operate themselves. “We are doing everything from fabrication to writing the training syllabus.”

And if that charter program is successful, it is poised to be implemented in the national organization.

“There is huge potential for what they are doing,” said Shibley. “But this is also huge for Inyokern that this is the kind of company that we are attracting.

“And we hope that the technical synergy that results from people with a similar focus being put into close proximity will have a direct benefit for everyone in the UAV Lab, and by extension be an incredible opportunity for economic growth in the Indian Wells Valley.

Shibley said that going from a vacant building to the potential home for six companies in just two months is an indicator of the potential for growth at Inyokern.

“We are already in the process of expansion and new construction out here,” said Shibley. “We already have the office and fabrication space, and soon we are going to have everything from range control to modeling and simulation to 3-D printing to any kind of electrical interfacing you can imagine.”

Last week Ryan flew one of his units at the airport, which Shibley said also marked a significant milestone for IYK as the first Cal UAS flight.

To view some examples of ultra-smooth, and high-definition, surveillance capabilities, search “Ryan Guggenbeuhl” on youtube.com.

Story First Published: 2013-07-24