Nevada Drone Companies Take Flight

When the Federal Aviation Administration last month selected Nevada as one of six test sites for unmanned aerial vehicles in civilian airspace, state officials cheered the potential for new drone companies to locate here. But the boost to the state’s drone industry was also good news for the few companies already here.

Las Vegas startup Skyworks Aerial Systems demonstrated its drone last week before a small crowd of potential investors. Unlike many other UAVs, Skyworks’ quad-rotor drone is designed for indoor use and is small and nimble enough to land on a chair.

Skyworks founder Greg Friesmuth created his first drones in his garage while working toward his engineering degree at UNLV. Designed to detect indoor radiation, the drones worked so well that Friesmuth partnered with fellow student Jinger Zeng to handle business development and, with help from UNLV’s new Startup Center, founded Skyworks. Their product uses a flexible carbon-fiber frame, which they say makes it more durable than similar drones currently on the market. Friesmuth also has plans for 6- and 8-rotor variations, which will be able to carry heavier payloads over longer distances. Skyworks intends to sell the drones as modular kits, primarily for educational and research purposes.

In contrast, Northern Nevada drone manufacturer Drone America markets its larger drones for outdoor applications such as fire fighting, cloud seeding and aerial photography. And while Amazon’s ballyhooed plans to use drones to deliver packages will likely take years to materialize, companies expect to find many other civilian uses for drones in the meantime.

Skyworks’ drones won’t be directly affected by the new FAA regulations. (The agency doesn’t regulate indoor drone use.) But Friesmuth was thrilled with the decision, saying that the increased attention to drones in Nevada should make it easier for Skyworks to find investors.