Inuvik drone-for-hire group could double in size by spring

The Inuvialuit region drone company is set to expand with more trained pilots.

New augmented reality software could save Igutchaq UAV money and time

New engineering technology developed in New Brunswick is making its way to the far North and will allow drone pilots in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region to troubleshoot problems with their vehicles. (Anthony Germain/CBC News)

A drone-for-hire business in Inuvik, N.W.T., is set to grow this spring, with 15 to 20 new pilots getting drone operator licences. 

Igutchaq UAV was established in March 2018 and is run through the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. Currently the company has more than 20 trained and licensed drone pilots across the Inuvialuit Settlement Region.  

After this spring, that number could almost double said Patrice Stuart, the pilot-in-command.

"We're really excited that we have local and knowledgeable Indigenous pilots in all of our communities that we can contract to work," she said. "Igutchaq [UAV] can be an umbrella that encompasses a lot of small businesses or independent pilots."  

Pilots operating in communities such as Fort McPherson, Tuktoyaktuk, and Ulukhaktok use their drones to assist in different research projects.

Most projects involve land surveying, but the hope is to be able to do bigger projects, Stuart said.

"We did training in a pit and we mapped out the entire pit." 

She said the project was contracted out to them from the Inuvialuit Land Administration.  

"If we wanted to go out and kind of monitor the reindeer herd for example it would definitely cut down a lot of costs," she said. "We could just go out and use our quadcopter and get aerial views of the herd ... we could do herd counts, calf monitoring, things like that."  

New technology could help with repairs

There are no drone repair shops in Inuvik and all equipment must be sent to Calgary or Edmonton to be fixed, said Stuart.

"Luckily we've not had any down drones or any malfunctions." 

But new technology could provide a solution for local drone maintenance, should the need arise.

Proactively, Igutchaq UAV has enlisted the help of LOOKNorth and Kognitiv Spark — two organizations based on the East Coast — to ensue their equipment can get fixed in house, if need be.  

RemoteSpark is augmented reality software developed by Kognitiv Spark. It's similar to the software behind the video game Pokemon Go. It's compatible with the Microsoft HoloLens and uses three dimensional holograms to help a person fix troublesome equipment.  

If a worker in a remote area has problems with gear — a drone for example — the worker can put on a headset, activate the software, and call an expert, said Rodney McAffee, Kognitiv Spark vice president. The expert then walks the person through how to fix the equipment.

Rodney McAffee is one of the developers of Remote Spark a new augmented reality software which lets workers call on experts to help make repairs. (Stephen MacGillivray Photography)

"You could initiate a call with the company that made the drone and they can confirm or walk you through the procedure," said McAffee. "You can reach out to an expert and find out if there's some maintenance or repairs that need to be done on the drone."

The furthest call McAffee said he has made was from St. Johns, N.L. to Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Being able to access the new software could save a lot of time, said Stuart. 

"It could mean a lot less downtime for a drone, which is what would be awesome," she said. "To use this new software and new equipment to quickly identify what the issue is and have it fixed locally ... it's definitely a plus for sure." 


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