HAYDEN — Empire Unmanned, a pioneer in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems industry, tripled its sales in 2016, mirroring national trends in the autonomous vehicle, remote sensing and geospatial data management industries.
In past years, company operations focused on precision agriculture, but in 2016 Empire Unmanned experienced signficant growth in other sectors, including mining, engineering and structure inspections. The company also created and maintained several public-private partnerships and developed a certification course required for commercial small Unmanned Aircraft System (commonly known as drone) pilots under new Federal Aviation Administration rules.
The certification course, being offered to the public for the first time in February through North Idaho College, is taught by Empire Unmanned President Brad Ward. Before the FAA relaxed its rules, all commercial drone operators were required to have a professional pilot’s license — a distinction that had given Empire Unmanned and its skilled professional pilots an industry edge.
“We embraced the rule changes by developing the certification course, which we will soon offer at additional sites throughout Idaho and the Pacific Northwest,” Ward said. “We are also opening up the company’s Global Information System data processing and analysis services to outside contracts.”
As part of an Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission Grant awarded to the company in 2016, Empire Unmanned is rolling out an efficient and robust data acquisition and delivery infrastructure early this year. The company has expanded its geospatial data storage capacity, processing speed and delivery, opening the door for Empire Unmanned to manage data storage and GIS processing needs for other drone operators.
Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems are being utilized commercially in a variety of applications. Using the drones, Empire Unmanned is able to map and accurately examine stockpile volumes, document construction progression, road surfaces, and inspect bridges.
Using the latest UAS technology, Empire Unmanned can gather images and data from above without interrupting operations. Ground survey crews can take weeks to survey hundreds of acres of surface pit mines, but Empire Unmanned can do the same in a single day and deliver data in just a few days.
The company’s fixed-wing and multi-rotor flight operations gather Geographic Information System, or GIS, and spatial data to generate three-dimensional point clouds, digital surface models and 3-D animations. One of the company’s platforms, the eBee RTK, improves absolute accuracy down to 3 centimeters without ground control points.
Empire Unmanned generates orthomosaics, high-resolution static maps and processes data for clients, as well as developing databases. The data can be analyzed for volume calculations and to determine slope, drainage and elevation — assisting clients with inventory, reclamation ground measurements and environmental controls.
Empire Unmanned was the eighth company in the United States to receive an FAA exemption to operate drones for commercial purposes. The company is currently adding California, Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska to its existing service area of Idaho, Washington, Montana, Utah and Oregon.
Empire Unmanned is also involved in a wide array of governmental and commercial contracts including: Infrastructure inspections, fire-fighting support, agriculture analysis, engineering/survey support, university research and development/academics, defense contractor research and development, UAS consultation, environmental, forestry assessment and GIS/remote sensor development.