Shibley reports on Cal UAS progress

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Shibley reports on Cal UAS progress With encouraging reports from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Conference, industrial migration toward Inyokern Airport and a community showcase planned for November, Cal UAS Portal Team Lead Eileen Shibley reported on the latest developments to have IYK named as one of the six FAA test sites for integrating unmanned systems into federal airspace.

“Where we are right now is that we learned at AUVSI that the FAA is still on track to make a decision by December, and we know that we are still in the running,” said Shibley, who noted that the 50 original candidates have already been pared down by about half.

“What’s really interesting is that we heard murmurings that the FAA may end up choosing more than six.

“Since the beginning we have felt that Inyokern is among the strongest applicants in terms of airspace, geography, climate, existing intellectual capital and community support. We have already heard that from industry, we just hope to hear it next from FAA.”

Shibley said that during the last 18 months the Cal UAS team has ushered some 25 people from the UAS industry through IYK.

“Not one of them has looked at what we have and said, ‘No, this won’t work.’ In fact most have expressed an interest in coming here to test — and some of them have already moved into the lab.”

Shibley said that although she is encouraged by the prospects of bringing Navy-compatible industry to the valley, one of the most significant revelations of the conference was the sheer scope of how bringing unmanned aerial vehicles into everyday life will change everything from business operations to security and safety to education.

“The tone was one of total enthusiasm. There is an embrace of the future of unmanned systems being in the same airspace as manned craft and what that portends for everyone,” she said.

“This is a total game-changer. The only time in our history where I believe we have seen something similar is in the United States during the early 1900s.

“There was this huge revolution during that time because of the advent of the automobile. People were scared to death that it would change our way of life forever. And of course it did, but there were only a handful at the time who truly had the vision to see that it would be for the better.

“Back then we didn’t have the kinds of roads or rules in place that we do now — just as we currently lack a comprehensive system for UAVs. At one time you were even required to have someone walk in front of your car holding a red lantern. People were terrified of what would happen so there were all these onerous, and sometimes unnecessary, regulations people had to abide by.

“Fast forward 100 years and look at how our roads have changed, our rules have changed. People literally cannot imagine our culture without cars.

“I think we are looking forward at the exact same cusp for unmanned systems. Only I would say that rather than a revolution, this will be an evolution.”

Shibley said that part of that evolution is in the rapidly expanding number of uses for unmanned systems. Despite the cultural association of unmanned aircraft with military uses, experts in the field are saying that commercial applications are quickly outpacing those for national security.

While UAVs are already being widely used for operations from surveillance to transportation to weather study and tracking, there are also developments in operations much closer to the heart of Kern — including those relating to agriculture and oil.

“People in the unmanned systems community know that this is a complete game-changer and that the industry spawned by this will be unimaginable,” said Shibley.

“I think the proof of that is in the number of people who attended this conference and the money that was spent there.”

Story First Published: 2013-09-04