Calgary opens drone park

The sky's the limit as Calgary opens what it believes is the first testing area in Canada for drones, autonomous vehicles and other technologies.

The city has set aside a 50-hectare site in its industrial southeast to offer airspace for an increasing demand from companies and educational institutions wanting to do mass tryouts of commercial drones.

A downturn in the energy industry when oil prices took a free fall in 2014-15 spurred the development of geospatial sciences, said Patti Dunlop of Calgary Economic Development.

"There's many companies that came out of the downturn that actually took their engineers, mathematicians and ... transitioned into ... another burgeoning technology," she said. "Energy will always be our backbone but we are more than that."

Geographic information systems are designed to capture, store, analyze and manage spatial or geographic data.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the Calgary testing site will be a boon to many sectors, including oil and gas, film and financial services.

"We have a part of the city that is part of the endless prairie where there are no buildings, so the concept of the living lab, here, for the first time in Canada ... really allows us to help these companies grow," he said Friday at the official opening of the testing area.

Nenshi gave an example of how new technology can be used in everyday life.

"I had my roof damaged in a hailstorm. The insurance company was able to send a drone over my roof to look at the damage without having to send someone over to climb a ladder and have a look there."

Dunlop said a pilot project last year offering a test area within the city was so successful it led to the permanent site that opened Friday.

"From what I know, nobody else has started doing this. There's places in the United States that have testing, but in Calgary we're the first municipality that's allowing this type of testing to happen."

There are requirements companies have to meet to use the test centre. They include licensing fees, proof of $2 million in corporate liability insurance and a special flight operations certificate for drone technology.



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