Despite uncertain regulatory environment, Oregon entrepreneurs eye drones for growth

Commercial drone industry set to emerge in Oregon.

Share this article!


A cluster of Oregon drone companies that previously served the military are looking to break into the civilian market.

Aerial Technology International founder and CEO Stephen Burtt says the Pacific Northwest is experiencing a “golden age of drones,” Skip Newberry of the Technology Association of Oregon writes in the Portland Business Journal.

Burtt highlighted SkyWard (of Portland), Wilsonville-based Honeycomb, XProHeli (Bend) and Northwest UAV Propulsion Systems (McMinnville) as leaders in the emerging industry.

SkyWard works with drone software programs, Honeycomb specializes in “precision agriculture solutions,” XProHeli is a “leader in aerial video and photography” and NW UAV builds engines and support systems.

“We feel like we’re surrounded with great synergy, with great support from other drone companies, who refer work to ATI and collaborate with us on projects when it fits our scale,” Burtt said in Newberry’s story. “In Oregon, there isn’t that strong sense of competition. The culture isn’t about duking it out with your neighbor; instead, there’s a strong sense of synergy.”

Provisional proposals by the Federal Aviation Administration are encouraging. If upheld, a shorter and simpler certification process would be available for end-users to legally operate drones that are under 55 pounds, travel under 100 mph, and are kept in line-of-sight. The final FAA guidelines are anticipated around September 2015.

Burtt intends to make ATI a global brand by creating industry-specific systems that solve specific commercial functions. has published several stories in the past few days about unmanned aerial vehicle companies in the area.

From a story published on March 8:

Unmanned aircraft systems are at the forefront of precision agriculture, a movement to use better technology to prevent crop disease, decrease pesticide use and generally make smarter decisions. James Durfey, a professor at Washington State University’s crop and soil sciences department, told a lecture hall of about 100 high school students at the Spokane Ag Expo that drones are going to be as common as tractors in the future.

“I just wish I was 40 years younger to take advantage of what’s available today,” Durfey said after his address to the Future Farmers of America. “Information is power.”

One theme is that drone technology will help farmers immediately:

“In the next 20 to 30 years, we’re going to need to double our food output and we’re going to need to do it with less resource use and a much higher level of sustainability and traceability,” he said.

The RMax is one of the most advanced unmanned aircraft systems in production. It was invented with investment from the Japanese government to be a crop duster, helping rice farmers who needed a less labor-intensive way to spray their paddies. Lorton is working with farming and technology leaders to land that kind of innovation in Oregon. Precision agriculture is the movement to take advantage of technology to decrease the use of pesticides, increase yields, squelch diseased crops faster and make smarter management decisions overall. Oregon is primed to be a precision agriculture leader, Lorton thinks, since farmers in the state grow 240 specialty crops – one of the most diverse lists of any state. Many small crops in the state rather than a few dominant ones, makes for a different kind of commercial agriculture.

READ ON: Business leaders reflect on three emerging drone companies here.