Drone industry poised to deliver big bucks — and tacos too

Drone industry poised to deliver big bucks — and tacos too

Quick — how many ordinary items can you imagine being delivered by remote-controlled aircraft?

Those crazy kids on the inter-Webs are full of clever ways to commercialize drone technology. Down in the Bay Area, there’s the well-documented “TacoCopter,” complete with mobile app (“Just tap and let the machines do the rest.”) The East Coast has its own version, the LobsterCopter.

It’s enough to send your imagination into overdrive — LatteCopter anyone? BrewCopter? GinandTonicCopter?

All silliness aside, the drone industry is shaping up as the next billion dollar industry and not surprising, Oregon wants a piece of the action as drones invade the civilian world.

Next year, the Legislature will weigh a $3 million grant proposal to pursue one of six drone test sites to be awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The folks behind the effort figure Oregon has a lot to offer. The Columbia River Gorge already is a hotbed of drone-related activity thanks to Insitu Inc., a Boeing subsidiary with some 800 employees. New businesses are forming almost every day to tap into an industry that is expected to balloon in 2015, the FAA’s deadline to integrate unmanned aircraft into the nation’s airspace.

And Oregon offers every type of terrain imaginable. It’s got an ocean, rivers, mountains, deserts, forests, agriculture and urban areas, all just waiting to be flown over by unmanned aircraft.

If it wins one of the coveted test zones, drone developers and the businesses that support them will gather round. It’s the kind of high-tech development that makes economic developers’ hearts flutter.

I learned about Oregon’s coming bet on the drone industry this week at the annual Oregon Business Plan summit. I had a ball chatting with the various people behind the drive, including Oregon dreamers who are building them, and reading various reports about the state of the industry for a story in Friday’s edition of the Portland Business Journal.

Drones have any number of civilian applications — researchers use them to gather intel on beach erosion, polar bear dens, forest fires and migrating whales. First responders use them for law enforcement and in search and rescue efforts.

But I confess it was the silly side of the industry that captured my fancy. TacoCopter? Are you kidding me?

Seriously, the Business Journal has two decks here on the fifth floor of Pacific Center. One is completely unused and unfurnished.

Give me 10 minutes and a sheet with a target on it and I will happily turn it into a TacoCopter helipad.

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