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BW leads partnership to develop drone infrastructure for Cuyahoga County

Growing use of unmanned aerial vehicles spurs creation of a framework that will organize safe "highways in the sky."

Drone in flight

Baldwin Wallace University is developing a regional, public-private technology partnership that aims to build the infrastructure needed to govern commercial drone activity within Cuyahoga County.

Within the framework of the BW Technology Partnerships Initiative, BW is convening stakeholders to develop a Northeast Ohio Flight Information Exchange (NEOFIX).

With input from a faculty/staff committee, affiliate professor Stuart Mendel is directing the NEOFIX project, working in collaboration with national unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) policy experts at ATA, LLC, based in Virginia.

"Drone airspace is critical public infrastructure, like a roadway system in the sky," Mendel explained. "The increasing commercial UAV applications require proactive oversight to both foster public safety, security and privacy and to actively develop public works uses and spur economic development."

Broad benefits

With the support of Cuyahoga County District 2 Councilman Dale Miller, the first year of the program has been funded with $225,000 of federal COVID-19 stimulus dollars under the American Rescue Plan Act.

"The project fits within BW's strategic vision as a vital regional corporate and organizational partner," said BW President Bob Helmer. "NEOFIX will benefit both residents and commercial users in the county. As it evolves, BW faculty and students in a variety of disciplines will be integrated into the project, as well."

Achieving drone safety goals

Drone operator's controls

While the FAA has rules governing drone flights, Mendel says NEOFIX will allow local and regional government and public safety agencies to share timely information with each other and drone operators, which keeps the airspace open, secure and safe. NEOFIX would achieve these goals by:

  • Informing drone operators of ground rules and conditions, local issues and events, public safety incidents, hazards, and sensitive and critical infrastructure.
  • Allowing information sharing in the most open way possible while also respecting operational security, privacy requirements and public safety, enabling multiple ways to connect and share information via the internet and flight programs.
  • Enabling local governments to define how drones get integrated into their communities through direct integration with drone systems, protecting the public interest.
  • Enabling safe integration for the space where drones operate (under 1,000 feet).
  • Creating public data assets for drones that provide Navigational Aids (NAVAIDS) that the FAA has already stated it will not provide.
  • Relying on a proven model that accelerates services, industry economic development and jobs while minimizing cost and risk.

Fueling economic development

Drone in flight at sunset

BW is convening public and private sector stakeholders to ensure policy recommendations to best serve all the needs of the region.

"NEOFIX will put the County and its airspace among the leading communities in the nation," Mendel said. "With a strong drone infrastructure in place, the region will be an attractive economic development location. Our vision for NEOFIX is that it will create the conditions for a robust drone industry, drawing the regional talents of existing and new entrepreneurs for drone manufacturing, assembly, repair, testing, training, education and policy."

More information on NEOFIX is available on the web.

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