Finding Houdini

I am not what you would call an “early adopter.” I don’t use a Mac. My car runs on gas. I’m loath to buy a new printer because that requires setting it up and figuring out how to use it. Microsoft once moved the print button the Word toolbar and I had to resort to “control+P” for months.

When Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) showed up in the general aviation space, I didn’t think it was Armageddon but I was pretty sure their arrival wasn’t good – safety concerns, security issues, oh the humanity!

On Thursday October 15, a 29-year-old horse named Houdini mimicked the famous magician and escaped his ranch in Castle Rock, Colorado, about 40 minutes from Denver. Groups of volunteers gathered on horseback, on foot, and on ATVs to look for the horse with no luck. Poor old Houdini has some health issues and his human family was worried sick.

Enter “the drone.” Kerry Garrison and Josh Gilson own Multicopter Warehouse, a UAS store in Castle Rock. Early Sunday morning, four days after Houdini’s disappearance, their UAS, equipped with Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), detected Houdini’s body heat in thick brush.

Today Houdini is recovering well from his four days of entrapment in the brush. Searchers previously passed near that location and saw no indication of the horse. Without the UAS, Houdini might never have been found.

I still have concerns about UAS operating near traditional manned aircraft. We’ve seen UAS interfere with firefighting efforts and crash into a stadium during a major sporting event. The FAA proposed rules for small UAS in February and has since stood up a new joint industry-government task force to develop a process for registering UAS. No doubt, we’ve got some work to do.

But putting aside the almost limitless commercial uses for UAS, the humanitarian (and equine?) uses became real to me when Houdini was happily reunited with his 11-year-old caretaker and rider.

Fire spotting (a critical task in my neck of the woods), search and rescue, medical supply delivery following natural disasters… UAS are here to stay and it’s exciting to think about future uses.

Far more exciting than a new printer.

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