ND Investing in Solar Unmanned Aircraft

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Fossil fuels have provided an unprecedented economic boom to North Dakota, but the state is investing in other types of energy as well.

The Renewable Energy Council met Monday, listening to grant proposals. One proposal seemed to soar.

Imagine an unmanned aircraft that never had to land, its fuel continually replenished by the sun. These aircraft could be used in North Dakota to patrol pipelines, monitor crops and assess crime scenes. It could be closer to reality than you think.

"We're excited to be part of this new technology in this new industry. I really believe that by using UAVs in different kinds of applications, it really could change the world," said Terri Zimmerman, CEO of Packet Digital and Botlink.

North Dakota companies Packet Digital and Botlink are creating this technology with the help of the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C. The technology is valuable to the military because it's portable, making it easy to use on the battlefield.

"We're actually on the edge of commercially produced, just commercially available systems that can provide this capability across the board. So it is really, really exciting times," said Dr. Robert Walters, Naval research physicist.

The project has already received $500,000 for phase one, which improved the efficiency of the solar cells. The companies are asking the state for $350,000 for phase two and $375,000 for phase three.

"It's interesting how so many of our industries are interconnected and this is just one of the programs to try and help them get over that hurdle of research to commercialization," said Alan Anderson, commerce commissioner.

In addition to advancements in technology, Botlink hopes to add about 80 full-time jobs in North Dakota.

This project will run from September 1 until June 1 of next year.