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INL possible future site for drone testing

Drone Testing in Idaho

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho - Some areas of Idaho may soon be used for unmanned aircraft system testing. The Idaho Department of Commerce is leading the project.

The Department of Commerce said there is no better place than Idaho for unmanned aircraft testing. The vast amount of land is one reason.

Sarah Wheeler works for the Bureau of Land Management. An agency that has been using unmanned aircraft for about a year.

"We're experimenting with drone testing for invasive species with weeds that are infiltrating areas around the big desert," she said.

Caribou-Targhee National Forest doesn't use this kind of aircraft yet, but said they're thinking about it.

"We do disease and insect inventories. We use aircraft to do that, people fly around and see where the outbreaks are. We could use that for drones," said employee Lynn Ballard.

The Department of Commerce hopes to safely integrate them into our skies with helicopters and airplanes. The agency also said testing should be done in Idaho Falls because we're home to the second largest non-Department of Defense test site in the U.S. known as the Idaho National Laboratory. Idaho Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis was one person who signed off on a bill that will protect people's privacy when it comes to unmanned aircraft.

"We have passed a bill this last session to put some pretty serious handcuffs on individuals that want to use that technology and what are authorized purposes, including in the area of criminal investigation," Davis said.
But there are still worries, no matter how great it could be for a few industries.

"It's also got the potential to be quite troubling. I know it would trouble me. It does trouble me," Davis said.

The Department of Commerce didn't give a date as to when the testings could happen. We will learn much more about this new project Wednesday when the team plans to meet in Washington D.C. We hope to get a response from the INL then.

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