The Ban on Commercial Off the Shelf Drones: Progress at the DoD

The U.S. Department of Defense has come out against the use of commercial off the shelf (COTS) drones, instituting a ban on COTS Unmnanned Aircraft in 2018.  But after nearly a year of coordination, collaboration, and development, two North Dakota drone solutions companies are making progress in working with the DoD: Botlink and InnoVets Aerospace flew over a DOD facility using a COTS Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) to collect imagery last week.

Botlink and InnoVets are two of North Dakota’s drone industry success stories.  North Dakota offers a tremendous range of both assets and access to drone companies working out of the Grand Sky UAS Business and Aviation Park.  Grand Sky offers a unique testing environment, including shared use of the runway at the Grand Forks Air Force Base.  InnoVets is a 100% veteran owned drone services and consulting company: Botlink is an innovative drone software and hardware developer.

“Operating from Grand Sky UAS Business and Aviation Park, InnoVets and Botlink operated two UASs to collect updated aerial imagery of the park,” says a joint press release. “This marks the first time this imagery was allowed to be updated since the ban on small COTS UASs went into effect.”

The ban on small COTS drones was the result of ongoing security concerns about technology manufactured in “listed countries,” like China – home of not only the world’s largest drone manufacturer, DJI, but much of the world’s technology manufacturing in general.  The ban has resulted in something of a gap in the fleet of the D0D and other government departments.  Many U.S. manufactured industrial or military use UAS are too large and too expensive to perform routine tasks and image gathering more appropriate to a smaller, less expensive tool.

Botlink and InnoVets worked with local Air Force leadership to go through the process of obtaining a waiver to the ban. “This is a team effort. DoD has security concerns regarding the small COTS UAS market, and our goal is to work with our military partners to promote safe and secure operations through the combination of operational protocols and innovative U.S. technology manufacturers” stated Mike Whitted, CEO of InnoVets Aerospace.

The team operated drones designed, built and tested by the Botlink team in Fargo.  “Botlink has a long history of taking on the biggest challenges, and creating world-class technology in the UAS market,” said Terri Zimmerman, Botlink CEO, “This is another example of

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