Insitu founder speaks to lawmakers about drones

By Lucas Wiseman, The Columbian/Murrow News Service

OLYMPIA — If you see an unmanned aerial vehicle flying overhead, it is much more likely looking at local topography or searching for a hiker than spying on you, according to Tad McGeer, owner of Aerovel, a company specializing in unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones.

Many people believe, McGeer, said, that “if you put a camera on an unmanned aircraft, somehow it’s sinister and dangerous.”

McGeer hosted an informational meeting Wednesday for legislators in Olympia to dispel what he called myths associated with unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as to discuss different uses for the technology. He was a founder, with Andy von Flotow, of Bingen-based Insitu, which is now a Boeing subsidiary that makes unmanned drones and employs more than 800 people in Bingen, White Salmon, Stevenson, Vancouver and Hood River, Ore.

In his presentation to about 50 people, McGeer said that people are much more likely to be photographed by a traffic camera, security system or a cellphone than by an unmanned drone. He doesn’t see drones as being able to compete with manned aircraft anytime soon, but believes there is a niche market they can occupy, including geological land surveying, search and rescue operations, wildfire monitoring, and weather tracking.

“I’ve always wanted to go in that direction,” he said.