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Detroit's first responders could soon get help from drones


Detroit’s overtaxed first responders could soon have help from new eyes in the sky--in the form of unmanned aerial systems, better-known as drones.

A company called Detroit Aircraft is opening an assembly and manufacturing center in Detroit’s City Airport, which has been largely vacant in recent years.

Detroit Aircraft CEO Jon Rimanelli says the company will partner with defense contractor Lockheed-Martin to assemble and test the Indago VTOL unmanned aerial system (shown in video above) for civilian use.

“What we’re going to do here in Detroit is apply automotive manufacturing techniques to mass produce it and make it affordable, so it’s accessible to first responders not only in the United States, but around the world,” says Rimanelli.

Advocates say the UAVs can not only spot fires and help coordinate emergency response; they can also pick out potential weak spots in burning buildings, and even victims trapped inside.

This isn’t a sure thing yet. Rimanelli says Detroit is “very close” to getting Federal Aviation Administration, but isn’t there yet. The effort has the full support of Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration, which has entered into a public-private partnership with both companies.

Rimanelli says the group is also working with the FAA and others to evaluate potential drone test sites city-wide, including the long-abandoned former Packard Plant on Detroit’s east side. “We’re in talks with them to finalize details to create a federally-sanctioned test and training site for unmanned systems,” he says.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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