NOAA testing drones off Washington Coast

by: Richard Thompson Updated:

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The researchers who work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) prefer the term Unmanned Aerial System, but most people know them as drones. NOAA has been testing two different drone systems off the northern Washington coast for the past two weeks.  There's the PUMA. It looks like an airplane with a 9-foot wingspan. Then there's the Quadrocopter with four rotors it's the kind of remote-controlled flying machine of many a child's dreams.

These drones, however, are not toys. They are serious machines built to military specifications but used by NOAA to survey birds and marine life off the coast. Researcher Todd Jacobs told KIRO-7 the drones save taxpayers a lot of money. "It's much less costly than using a helicopter or an airplane and they are much less likely to cause any disturbance to the animals."

Both drones send back real-time video and still photos to help survey the health of bird populations off the coast. Researchers say the quiet drones don't bother animals like big planes or choppers.

The drones are also being used to check for possible tsunami debris that could be accumulating off our coast. Jacobs told KIRO 7, "We did not find accumulations of debris, but having the unmanned aircraft allowed us to search a much wider swath and greater area than we would have with just eyeballs on the boat."

Those testing the drone technology say that in addition to being less expensive to fly and reducing the impact on wildlife, it is also safer for researchers. Jacobs said, "It's safer than putting people in helicopters and flying offshore."