UAVs in Alaska

Alaska is an appropriate spot to stage this project both because of its particular educational challenges and because of its existing expertise in the field of unmanned aircraft systems. Alaska’s vast size, scattered infrastructure and harsh conditions have made it an ideal proving ground for new UAV technology for civil, commercial and scientific applications (ACUASI, 2013). This holds especially true for the rural areas that are the focus of this proposal, which are surrounded by wilderness inhospitable to traditional exploration by land.

The UAF Geophysical Institute has taken the lead in developing and field-testing UAV’s in Alaska, for use in applications such as resource mapping; monitoring marine mammals; fighting forest fires; and mapping glaciers and sea ice. 

UAF is the only university in the world to regularly use UAV’s for real-world mapping, research and emergency response missions, and has been contracted to assist in efforts across the U.S. and abroad, including missions in Chile, South Africa and Iceland. 

UAF recently established the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (ACUASI) to provide structure, visibility and support for the UAV program and to expand UAV research and education. ACUASI is currently working to establish outreach and external engagement programs; hence the organization’s interest in leveraging EPSCoR and Upward Bound efforts in this project.

The growing value of UAV’s is being recognized nationwide. UAVs, and their development at UAF, are specifically cited in the state’s Science and Technology Plan (Alaska SCoR, 2012) and have drawn both attention and funding from the state legislature.