FARGO — Speaking at 2018’s Drone Focus Conference here, UND President Mark Kennedy compared the state’s role in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to Minnesota at the dawn of the computer industry.
“At the time, four of the five largest computer companies had major regional presences or global headquarters in Minnesota,” he said. “They were second only to California in the number of computer jobs. At the same time, California focused on universities. Three of the first four universities to start the internet were in California.”
As he put it, Minnesota bet on companies; California bet on research universities.
Kennedy remarked, “How did that turn out?”
While North Dakota is currently the “Silicon Valley” of UAS development, Kennedy emphasized the necessity of research-focused institutions to keep it that way.
“In the end, it will be UAS research that is going to be the key to this region continuing its leadership in unmanned,” he told his audience at the Fargo Civic Center. “If you look at North Dakota, the state has a long history of understanding the value of research.”
He offered the example of continued state research investments in agriculture, as well as the research conducted by UND’s Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) – helping unlock the full potential of North Dakota’s resources.
“We’re pleased to conduct over $100 million annually in research at UND, a significant part of that coming from our federal partners,” he said. “We’re also pleased to have launched the Research Institute in Autonomous Systems that’s reaching out to North Dakota State as well as others in the region to make sure we’re pulling in talent.”
The research institute, more commonly referred to as RIAS (pronounced “rise”), covers a broad range of topics in unmanned that aren’t limited to flight. Kennedy touts their focus as something that sets the state apart from other states who seek to advance their UAS developments.