PENDLETON — Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts uses drones to do security checks ahead of parades and large events like the Pendleton Round-Up and Pendleton Whisky Music Fest.
Sgt. Dwight Johnson, the supervisor of the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue unit, anticipates that all patrol sergeants will eventually need to carry their own drones.
Dick Levy, of Cunningham Sheep, said he was able to move 600 head of cattle in 20 minutes using only a drone.
These local voices shared how they use unmanned aerial systems, or drones, in their professional fields at the Association for Unmanned Vehicles International Cascade Chapter Fall Symposium at the Pendleton Convention Center on Wednesday.
Levy played for the audience a video of some cattle he herded using a drone. The cows stare at the UAS as it approaches before booking it when it gets too close for comfort.
Levy was able to do this all remotely with the assistance of goggles that give him the same view the drone’s camera does.
“It’s probably the most fun when I can sit in one spot without getting on my horse,” he said, adding that herding cattle would usually be a two-person job at the least.
Many of the members on the farming and ranching panel said they used drones to cut down on labor and cost.
Chris Rauch is a partner for Starvation Farms, a company with wheat farms in Umatilla and Morrow counties.
He’s been working with Brad Spencer, a precision agriculture specialist with Morrow County Grain Growers, to use a UAS to help coordinate a precision spraying operation on his wheat fields. Rauch said the savings in spraying and water costs were significant.
Kyle Waggoner, the district manager for the Umatilla County Soil and Water Conservation District, said staff members used to have to go out on a boat with polarity glasses to track underwater weeds, a job that his drone now does.
On a public safety panel, public safety officials said they use drones for operations like search and rescue, tracking dangerous suspects, and monitoring drug trafficking situations.
Johnson obtained his remote pilot certificate in 2016, but he said there were still some hard lessons in the early years of the sheriff’s drone program.
In one instance, Johnson said sheriff’s deputies were pursuing a dangerous subject who dived into a river while trying to escape.
Deputies tried to use their drone to contain the suspect while they tracked him, but without the aid of observing the drone’s live camera feed through goggles, the suspect was able to wade by the UAS undetected before being found elsewhere.
Roberts said he often feels hamstrung by the current laws that govern drone usage, which cut down on the department’s ability to deploy them.
“The law and the industry aren’t really married up yet,” he said.
On the farming panel, UAS adopters said their limitations were more technical, often involving the need for more battery life or improved software.
Waggoner said the drone he uses to track underwater weeds is fine for ponds and stillwater bodies, but it doesn’t work well with a flowing river. He said the future for that task is with submersible unmanned vehicles.
During an audience question period, one attendee asked how law enforcement planned to counteract people using drones for criminal activities.
Johnson said the conversation has come up in his office, but he didn’t have an answer yet.
Patrick Sherman, a UAS official who works with a nonprofit that promotes drones used for public safety, offered a few answers of his own.
Sherman said some countries use radio jammers to disrupt criminal drone operators, but the U.S. doesn’t allow for jammers because it disrupts other technology like cellphones.
He also said law enforcement could physically intercept these drones, either with a falcon or eagle, or with another drone that grounds the illicit UAS with a net.