Steve Edgar envisions drones transporting agriculture products

( Photo: Shutterstock )

One of the early pioneers of aerial drone use in agriculture is now looking to grow his business in more ways than one. Steve Edgar, founder of Empire Unmanned, is investigating the Pocatello Regional Airport in Pocatello, Idaho, for future use as the first-ever unmanned air-freight hub.

Currently, companies like Natilus, a startup out of San Francisco, are designing gigantic drones that will be capable of handling cargo loads. The company is planning to release a drone the size of a Boeing 777 by 2020.

Despite these developments, Edgar believes that it will most likely be a decade or more before drones of this size will be carrying freight.

Edgar’s Empire Unmanned was the eighth company to receive an FAA drone exemption when the government put in place regulations prohibiting the commercial use of drones outside the pilot’s line of sight and above an altitude of 400 feet.

However, a pending FAA change that will allow pilots to fly UAVs outside their line of sight could help the idea of an aerial drone hub gain more ground.

Edgar believes Pocatello is the ideal choice for the drone hub due to the airport’s under-utilization, its location on a rail-line and near two interstate highways, lots of open space around the runways, and of course the bustling agricultural production of the area. Plus, nearby Idaho State University and the Idaho National Laboratory are experts in the field of UAVs.

Currently, Empire Unmanned performs drone services including mapping, inspections, monitoring, and photography and video for agribusiness as well as mining, natural resource management, civil engineering, and aquaculture.

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