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Fargo drone conference represents 'ecosystem of young talent' aiming to help technology take off

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Derek Kan with the U.S. Department of Transportation speaks at the Drone Focus Conference in Fargo Wednesday, May 30. Dave Olson/The Forum2 / 3
An aerialist performs during the opening of the Drone Focus Conference in Fargo on Wednesday, May 30. Dave Olson/The Forum3 / 3

FARGO—North Dakota is a leader in the development of technology around unmanned aircraft systems—better known as drones—and the Trump administration has one question for the state: what impediments do you face in moving UAS technology forward?

"Let us know and we will seek quickly to unwind that," said Derek Kan, under secretary of transportation for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The Drone Focus Conference, at the Fargo Civic Center, concluded Thursday, May 31, and Kan spoke Wednesday at the event, which has been held for four years.

Kan and other speakers underscored the important role North Dakota has assumed in the development of drones in both the commercial and government realms.

That includes the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site in Grand Forks and its recent selection as one of 10 sites around the country to participate in the federal government's UAS Integration Pilot Program.

Kan said North Dakota was selected for the program in part because the state has something no other state has: a thriving ecosystem when it comes to drone technology.

"You have this ecosystem here of young talent, of established businesses, of great policy thinkers and political leaders that are trying to enable this technology to take off," Kan said.

With more than one million registered drones now operating in the skies over the United States, Kan said the Department of Transportation wants to hear from the public in North Dakota and elsewhere regarding what people feel is needed when it comes to the future of drone technology.

"Let us know the feedback you're hearing, because that is what informs laws and policy," Kan said.

Conference attendees also heard from North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who commented on a recent death involving a driverless car and the large amount of public attention it garnered.

He said the same was true of a recent death on a commercial airliner, something he said remains an extreme rarity.

In contrast, Burgum said human drivers cause tens of thousands of traffic deaths every year with the magnitude of the carnage receiving little or no commentary.

"We have a huge tolerance for ground transportation to be a deadly, deadly thing," Burgum said, adding, however, that when it comes to employing technology, "some people want to apply zero tolerance to everything we do."

The conference concludes Thursday, May 31.

Dave Olson
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