• WisBusiness

Monday, May 4, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Drones find their way into Wisconsin skies, classroom


By MaryBeth Matzek
Whether you call them drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), these remote control flying devices are attracting a lot of attention from businesses and the government. While drones first gained notoriety for their military uses during the 2000s, companies in recent years have realized their business potential with the oil, mining and agriculture sectors taking a particular interest in their use.

Drones are attractive to businesses because they allow them to gather information and data easily from a wide area, says Joe Hupy, who will teach a class next fall at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire on drone usage. The class – which is already full – will allows students to work with drones in a safe, structured environment.

He cited a study where experts predicted drones could have an $82 billion economic impact by 2025 thanks to their use in a variety of industries from agriculture and mining to real estate and insurance companies surveying storm damage.

Hupy says given that agriculture is such a large part of the state's economy that the drone usage will be focused on that. For example, the drones will have equipment that will help the students gather information and data on crop conditions. That information can then be shared with farmers to help them with any problems they may have. He says the class isn't just about teaching the "nuts and bolts" of how to fly a drone, but to also think critically about the information gathered using it.

Beyond helping farmers check what's happening in the fields, drones also can be used in marketing efforts. Freedom-based Milk Source LLC used a drone to record footage for a video later posted on social media at Rosendale Dairy in Fond du Lac County, the state's largest dairy.

"The aerial photography allows us to show viewers how we achieve sustainable agriculture in a high-impact, high-energy way. Offering a bird's-eye view of our farms can be an inspiring experience, even if the video is less than a minute long," says Avi Stern, communications manager for Milk Source. "Drone photography has really caught the public's fancy. One video -- taken within our milking parlor -- has been 'shared' on social media platforms about 1,800 times. Farmers are excited by what we can show them while consumers are often curious -- and drone photography gives us another effective tool to tell our story to both groups."

Stern says the first video was recorded during the winter and mostly focused on what was happening inside, but now that warmer weather is here Milk Source is looking at other ways to use drones to capture footage of its operations.

While the use of drones is increasing, the Federal Aviation Association is looking at current rules and considering changes governing their use. Currently, the rules regarding drone use are strict, including height limits and operators need to keep the drone in sight during their entire usage.

While some industries and organizations call for looser rules, those in the aviation industry have their concerns. As part of the public comment period, which ended last week, Oshkosh-based Experimental Aircraft Association sent in their concerns. Sean Elliott, EAA's vice president of industry and regulatory affairs, says the organization that supports and encourages recreational aviation use is concerned about how the new rules may affect their members.

"We worry about the freedom of navigation for manned aircraft, namely aviation users don't lose airspace because of increasing drone use and that the drones are safely integrated with the national airspace system," he says. "Someone could go to a store, buy a drone, put it together and start flying it several hundred feet up in the air and never realize there is a small airport runway nearby, which could cause problems."

Another fear for EAA leaders is that as rules for drones change, it may lead to the FAA requiring additional general aviation equipment for all aircraft. "Pilots shouldn't have to pay for expensive new equipment because drones are now in the sky," Elliott says. "We're concerned with the drone rules since our members are flying every day and what is decided with drones may affect them and their safety."

The FAA plans to announce new rules regarding drone use later this year or early next year.

New approach to landfill

Waupaca Foundry has found an innovative way to reuse the by- products from its three foundries in Waupaca. After working with TRC Companies, Inc. the company came up with a plan to use those by-products – namely sand and slag – in the construction of final cover and liner barrier layers for the landfill it operates near Waupaca.

Starting in 2011, TRC and Waupaca Foundry constructed test pads with underlying collection systems to measure the long-term performance and benefit of reusing slag and sand by-products as a landfill barrier layer material. For two years, the test pads were monitored. In May 2014, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approved a plan to use the sand and slag by-product material as a landfill liner barrier. This will allow the company to save on landfill construction costs, extend the life of the landfill and reduce its overall environmental impact.

By reusing the sand and slag by-product, the company will be able to use nearly 200,000 cubic yards of waste material in the cover barrier and liner barrier. Waupaca Foundry hopes to put in the new liner barrier system next year.

Waupaca Foundry and TRC received an American Council of Engineering Companies Engineering Excellence Award for the State of Wisconsin and a National ACEC Award for the project.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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