Brandi Jewett, Droning On: A North Dakota UAS news blog
The offices of Grand Forks unmanned aircraft systems firms are getting more crowded as interns begin to settle in and start carving out their roles in the ever-evolving industry.
Internship opportunities in the field vary from positions requiring students to be behind the controls of aircraft to placing them at the keyboard of a computer, a reflection of the wide variety of jobs employers are looking to fill.
“We’ve worked through some programs at the state to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make these students into highly skilled employees and help the North Dakota economy by creating new jobs and wealth,” said Matt Dunlevy, president and CEO of SkySkopes.
The 10 positions at SkySkopes, which conducts aerial inspections of infrastructure, and others being filled at area companies are a testament to the fast-paced growth of the industry, which allows relatively young firms to support several interns.
Confidence in the sector has been growing steadily in recent months, with another shot in the arm delivered when the Federal Aviation Administration revealed its finalized regulations for unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds used for commercial and governmental purposes.
When the rules go live in August, many in the unmanned industry predict an economic boon. Anticipation and investment in unmanned technology prior to the regulations’ release also helped boost business locally, paving the way for internship positions as well.
The uptick in business means three summer interns for Field of View, a Grand Forks business specializing in creating sensors and software for mapping and modeling data collected by unmanned aircraft.
“We’ve really had to strategically manage our growth because if we would have hired this many people two or three years ago, I’m not sure we would have had the business to support them,” CEO David Dvorak said.
Both Field of View and SkySkopes are striving to provide their students with real-world experiences that will complement their education and be attractive to future employers.
And much like the unmanned industry in Grand Forks, these interns are collaborating with peers at other companies.
On Wednesday, the SkySkopes group met up with Field of View just south of Grand Forks for a test flight.
Interns with SkySkopes are recruited from UND’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program, and each student is provided with training on how to fly an aircraft and retrieve and store data, along with learning the ropes of running a business and filing paperwork with the FAA.
The background of Field of View’s interns aren’t rooted in the university’s UAS program but are varied and include electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and geography majors.
“I definitely didn’t think I would land anything like this,” said Jacob Nordberg, a UND senior studying geography. “I thought I was kind of thinking I was going to go with urban planning or something like that, but I’ve taken some image processing courses at UND, and it definitely relates really well to what I’m doing here. I think it’s been an invaluable experience.”
At the company’s Grand Forks office, Nordberg and fellow interns Jack Heichel and Alex Heyd work on a variety of projects ranging from testing cameras to crunching and mapping data to using the data to build 3-D models of objects. Working with them is Francisco Madera, who started as Field of View’s first intern in February but has since moved into a full-time position.
During Wednesday’s flight, the two company teams worked together to collect sample data the Field of View crew will use on the job. The field test provided an opportunity for SkySkopes’ group to gain more experience in flight operations.
“We really want to put them through the internship program because we’re trying to make the most highly educated and safest UAS pilots in North Dakota and ultimately in the nation,” Dunlevy said.
SkySkopes’ ultimate goal is to create 50 jobs in five years through the program, Dunlevy added.