How a small southern Alberta town became a drone hotspot

If you have drones dropping off your mail in the future, you will have a small town in southern Alberta to thank.

Foremost, Alta. has a 700-nautical-mile area where companies are testing drones

This Amazon drone could be a reality sooner than we think, thanks to a restricted area in small-town southern Alberta. (Amazon/Associated Press)

If you have drones dropping off your mail in the future, you will have a small town in southern Alberta to thank.

The village of Foremost just became the only place in Canada where companies can test drones at great heights — and great sights.

The area is 2,400 square kilometres — and according to Sterling Cripps, the president of the drone training company Canadian Unmanned, the area is ideal for drone or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) testing.

"It's very flat, it's void of towers, trees and most importantly it's void of people, if you can believe it or not," he told the CBC's Radio Active Thursday.

Area ideal for drone testing

The area has around 500 people in it, making it ideal for drone testing. Cripps came up with the idea in 2008 after he saw how the technology was progressing. It took six-and-a-half years for his idea to become a reality.

"I thought that there might be a requirement in the future to have an area where we're going to be testing drones for beyond visual line of sight," he said.

The restricted area allows companies to test the drones' ability for communication and functionality at great heights and distances. Drones are clear to travel as high as 18,000 feet and as far within the restricted zone as they can.

Cripps said aircraft can travel at all heights — meaning there could potentially be a collision between an airplane and a drone. But he said pilots are aware of the airspace and usually respect it as such.

Drone delivery?

Cripps said while companies are testing delivery services of drones, he doesn't think the service is on the horizon. "I don't think we're going to see down-street drone delivery anytime soon," he said. "I just don't think we can manage it."

People shooting drones down to rob them or people vandalizing them are two problems companies would be unable to avoid.

But there is one area that's seeing some success.

"Where you will see a success though is sort of in emergency or disaster relief," Cripps said. Some companies and organizations are already using drones to deliver medical equipment and supplies to remote areas.

As for your mail, though, you're unlikely to receive a holiday card from grandma via drone in the near-future.

"Don't expect your Canada Post to be flying drones down the street anytime soon," Cripps said.

You can reach the writer, Kyle Muzyka, by email or on Twitter.