BY ROBERT RODRIGUEZ
When the federal government announced several years ago that it planned to create rules for the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, Fresno businessman Ron Wingo was already trying to figure out how his company could benefit.
Wingo, founder of Montico Inc., knew from past experience developing cell phone towers that companies routinely need to collect information from the towers as part of routine maintenance and operation. But that usually involved sending a worker up the 200-foot-plus tower, posing a safety risk to the employee.
Wingo realized that an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, could do the same thing, plus provide more precise information. And once the Federal Aviation Administration began accepting applications allowing the commercial use of UAVs, Wingo jumped at the chance.
Although the FAA is still reviewing comments and finalizing the rules for UAVs, it has been approving exemptions on an a case-by-case basis, says Tom McMahon, vice president of public affairs for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. The final rules are expected by mid-2016.
Wingo’s company was approved in March, becoming one of the few, if not the only one in the central San Joaquin Valley with the federal “Section 333 exemption” to do tower inspections. Nationwide, the FAA has approved 746 exemptions as of July, 9.
“It was a long process, but we are now authorized for nationwide operation for commercial use of our UAVs for the telecommunications industry,” Wingo says.
And just how large is that industry? There are more than 200,000 towers scattered throughout the U.S.
Montico is currently providing data for several clients and Wingo says he is close to signing deals with two national companies that could significantly increase the size of his 14-employee staff.
Exeter-based company targets agriculture
Mark Hull, owner of All Drone Solutions in Exeter, says that because the interest in flying vehicles has accelerated, so has the technology.
“I was showing someone a drone recently with technology that didn’t even exist six months ago,” Hull says.
Hull sees the potential for use of UAVs in agriculture. Potentially, the equipment could be used to provide information on crop health, mapping and improving efficiency.
Wingo says his specially designed equipment can be used for many industries, including agriculture, law enforcement and scientific research.
For communications towers, Montico can provide high-definition video, precise measurement data (including height) and streaming capability. As part of Montico’s services, the tower owners can access all of the data collected by the UAV through a portal the company calls Aerolytix.
The Aerolytix application can be accessed anytime by the customer through a computer or mobile device.
“We have moved so far ahead from just being able to take a picture of something,” Wingo says. “We can now provide precise information along with the capability of being able to see everything as if you were standing five feet from it.”