The plains state is on its way to becoming the capital of the unmanned aerial vehicle industry, and with that comes inevitable difficulties.
Last June, six cattle wandered from a neighbor's farm onto land owned by Lakota, North Dakota, resident Rodney Brossart. Brossart refused to return the cattle without compensation for feed the cattle had consumed on his land, and a 16-hour standoff with law-enforcement agencies ensued, involving, notably, the deployment of not just the usual run-of the-mill police tactics, but a Predator drone. Brossart was arrested -- he is believed to be the first U.S. citizen arrested domestically with the aid of a Predator drone -- and his case is now in court.
In the course of reporting this story, the Star Tribune notes a particular detail that hints at the larger context in which this story unfolded: The state's university is a leader in the field of drone education. Mark Brunswick reports:
The University of North Dakota operates a fleet of seven different types of unmanned aircraft. In 2009, it became the first college in the country to offer a four-year degree in unmanned aircraft piloting. It now has 23 graduates and 84 students majoring in the program, which is open only to U.S. citizens.
It works with Northland Community College in Thief River Falls, Minn., which developed the first drone maintenance training center in the country and proudly shows off its own full-size Global Hawk.
The university also serves as an incubator for companies that might want to expand the industry. In five days, Unmanned Applications Institute International, which provides training in operating drones, can teach a cop how to use a drone the size of a bathtub toy.
Together, the two stories -- that of Brossart's arrest and the university's innovative programming -- demonstrate the difficulty of establishing leadership in this particular field. The jobs, the contracts, and the many legitimate uses of drone technology (such as, for example, a recent survey by drone of some 800 nautical miles of dangerous flooding), will inevitably bring drone troubles. The Brossart case is surely but the leading edge of the sorts of legal troubles we can expect to see as more unmanned machines fly overhead.