Paul Wheeler is part of the Technology Advancement Team serving as the Lead UAS Coordinator at the Utah Dept. of Transportation. He has worked in many capacities within UDOT for the past 20 years as survey technology advisor, lead of the 3D visualization group, Cadd support specialist, and construction surveyor. He is an instrument rated private pilot and is working on fostering innovation through the use of unmanned aircraft systems. We caught up with Paul to ask him about the state of drone use in public infrastructure and here is what had to say:

InterDrone: How did you get into the commercial drone space?

Paul: I have always been interested in finding new ways to accomplish tasks with new tools.  As a child I loved exploring and taking things apart to find out how they worked, often to the annoyance of my parents I didn’t always do a good job of putting them back together in the same way I took them apart.  This passion led me to a love of remote control vehicles of all types; land, aircraft, gliders, warbird replicas, and helicopters.  I had a love for all things flying, which lead me to pursue getting a pilot’s license so I could be inside the aircraft.

I seen the value of being in the air and worked with companies to test using LiDAR from manned aircraft and other methods for collecting data for our needs to improve efficiency and get a new perspective.  Along came unmanned aircraft utilizing new technology in batteries, sensors, servos, and radio bands, I excitedly wanted to push the envelope and see what could be accomplished with these new tools.  I started working with colleagues in universities and in the Department of Transportation to see what could be accomplished and how well.  This ultimately led us to see the value they could have and implement a UAS program within the Utah Department of Transportation.  Since we started we have found many uses and find more and more as time passes.  This technology is moving so rapidly I see even better things for the future and excitedly wait to see where it takes us.

What are your thoughts on its development so far? (Whether it be technologically, legally, or use cases.) 

The development is moving at a whirlwind pace and I don’t see it slowing down.  Some of the hurdles do impede what we can do at this time, however, even with the hurdles there are so many ways that they provide benefits for their use.  I commend the FAA on their willingness to help move this technology forward and listen to the challenges we have.  We all want UAS integration to be safe and I see great possibilities in the future.

What do you envision the commercial drone space to look like a year from now? 5?

In a year I see some great changes coming on the horizon due to the willingness of the FAA to embrace unmanned aircraft.  They show this with the work and initiatives to enable the industry to move forward, such as Part 107, the UAS Integration Pilot Program and the LAANC system.  I believe we will see more people embrace the technology and start using it more in their daily work to increase productivity, save lives, and create new jobs in the workforce.  In 5 years, I see a drastic change in the way we live our lives.  I believe that UAS will change our lives more than most can imagine; a change like was seen from horse and buggy to when the automobile was first put on the market.  The automobile had many critics, but look where it has taken us in the way we live, travel, transport, and commute today.  What took days or months can now be accomplished in hours.  I truly believe UAS will drastically change our future for the better; imagine the lives that can be saved by quicker response from UAS in the medical field, or traveling from the airport to your house in a safer, faster, less congested mode of travel, or have your food, package, or refreshment in minutes from when it was ordered.  There will be some challenges and issues to overcome, but I believe the effort will be well worth it in the end.

If you had one “wish list” item to have in/happen to the industry today, what would it be?

My wish list would be to help improve the public perception of UAS.  Unfortunately the media often portrays the negative aspects of UAS.  I would like to see more word out on the benefits UAS can have in our lives; Portray how it saves the lives or workers across the world, how it improves efficiency, how it can save a life with a defibrillator delivered to a person in need when the ambulance is stuck in traffic, and focus on how it can be used for good.

You’ll be speaking at InterDrone this year. What is your topic? And aside from teaching all the attendees, what else are you most looking forward to at the show?

The topics I’ll be focusing on are Hybrid surveying methods using LiDAR & UAS to achieve high precision topographic land surveys and Utilizing UAS in Construction.  In addition to these sessions I am excited to collaborate, learn, and share ideas with other in the industry as well as see all the new technology that will be on display.

To find out more about Paul’s sessions, check out his profile on the 2018 speaker’s page.