How can Washington state develop a drone zone that will be of value to a variety of partners?

By Jennifer Ferrero

Mike Marzetta

Mike Marzetta is an idea man. He is the owner of Altek, Inc. and Mindsi Robotics in Liberty Lake, Washington. Marzetta is involved with several advisory boards to increase aerospace sales and opportunities in Eastern Washington and sits on the board for Center of Excellence for Unmanned and Autonomous Systems.

At the last board meeting, Marzetta shared the New York Drone Zone, www.uascentral.com, which stands for Unmanned Aerial Systems of New York. If you check out the website, you may notice their marketing copy states, “New York State Is the Center of UAS – With our industrial roots in aerospace, our military aviation heritage, and our second to none investment in Unmanned Systems, New York State is the place to be for all things UAS.”

Marzetta asked the board – why not Washington?

He further posed, why not create a drone zone in eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana along the I-90 Corridor?

Marzetta thinks it’s time that we start discussing it and doing something about it. Recently he was at a networking event where he was surprised to hear in conversation that Spokane is known as a manufacturing and aerospace community.

He said that perceptions are changing and while Washington has always been known as an aerospace state, we haven’t always been known as an unmanned systems or drone state.

I asked him whether New York was known as a drone state and he said, “Well, we’re talking about it, aren’t we?”
Through research on the UAS Central website it seems that they feel it takes three main components to become known as a “drone zone” location:

  • Academics and thought leaders – Dr. Chris Lum, University of Washington and Dr. Lav Khot from Washington State University are two thought leaders who conduct research and testing with students and participate in discussions around the use of unmanned systems in Washington.
  • Testing locations – According to Marzetta, he feels that it is easy to set up testing locations He said, “It needs to be isolated. There is testing going on in the Gorge, they are testing optics systems – beyond line of site testing.”
  • Strategic and corporate partners – The COE UAS has set up an Advisory Board with strategic and corporate partners to help define activities in the state. There is a mix of commercial, government, and non-governmental organizations/nonprofits, as well as educational partners.

Marzetta feels that the time is now to begin discussions in earnest about a Washington Drone Zone. He offered that the I-90 Corridor between eastern Washington and western Montana is logical due to the available space, available partners, and recognition of the area as an aerospace hub.

“We need to move forward with a goal. We need to put ourselves at the top of list. Who will start it? I think it is organic. You must plant enough seeds. I was thinking the I-90 corridor because you can visualize it. But I suspect you’ll see automated trucks driving by I-90 before you see drones flying down I-90. People have embraced the I-90 corridor – so why not a drone corridor?”