Daily Mail WV

The sky behind the former Bonham Elementary School was buzzing with flying devices Wednesday and Thursday as Metatron Unmanned Solutions, a local drone company, demonstrated its new line of commercial Drone Volt drones.

Metatron also held a reception to celebrate their new partnership.

Drone Volt, located in France, is a leader in civilian commercial drone development. Metatron has entered into an exclusive partnership with Drone Volt to sell, lease and service Drone Volt drones. Future plans include manufacturing the drones in the United States.

“We had been looking for the last couple of months where to get them built in the U.S.,” said Daniel Roe, executive vice president of Drone Volt USA. “We made a trip here to meet with Metatron two weeks ago to finalize our partnership. We looked at a couple of schools here. We are looking for kids who want to get in this industry. We think now that to manufacture here in West Virginia might be the way to go.”

About a dozen people looked on as Travis Snyder, Metatron’s chief pilot and certified instructor, flew a Hercules H-2 drone and several other Drone Volt models.

“The H-2 was built following specs by the Department of Homeland Security,” Snyder said.

The H-2 is being used by the military, ICE and other law enforcement agencies. Its commercial uses include pipeline, cell tower and bridge inspections; aerial thermal imaging and natural disaster monitoring.

Snyder also demonstrated the drones to two employees from Idaho Power on Wednesday. Mike Spengler wants to use drones to inspect power lines and to monitor wildfires. Brad Alcorn is a fisheries biologist employed by Idaho Power. Alcorn wants to use drones to monitor the spawning of Chinook (or King) salmon in the Snake River.

“King salmon are considered to be a threatened species. We are tasked to monitor how many fish are spawning. We do surveys of salmon redds [nests] in Hells Canyon. We used to do it by helicopter, but drones are cheaper and safer,” Alcorn said.

Meanwhile, John Lopardo, a representative from California-based IXI Technology, is off to the side explaining how electronic warfare works. He’s holding a “drone killer,” an electronic device that looks like a gun. As drone technology advances, the need for anti-drone technology is also rising.

“Not all uses of drones are friendly,” he said.

The IXI Drone Killer uses “microbursts of RF energy” to bring drones back to earth. RF stands for radio frequency; basically, the gun sends out waves that disrupt the device from communicating with the drone operator.

“Just don’t say ‘jam,'” Lopardo said. “The FCC doesn’t like that word. We prefer the word ‘mitigate.'”

In most cases, a drone with a signal that has been “mitigated” will either land immediately or return to the operator. But the drone killer also has the capability to interfere with a drone’s GPS signal, which could cause the drone to crash.

“Range is approximately a half-mile. It has a 30-degree cone, so you just have to point it in the direction of a drone. They can take out a swarm simultaneously,” he said.

Federal rules limit the sale of the drone killers to law enforcement agencies, Lopardo said.

Also part of the new partnership is a curriculum of in-depth drone pilot training, which Metatron is calling “Drone Volt Academy.” Snyder, a graduate of Scott High School in Boone County, will be the instructor.

“It will be a two-week course, and it will make you a savvy pilot,” Snyder said. “We’ll cover photogrammetry and thermography applications, and the software systems that make these things fly. You will be more aware of what is going on within the system itself.”

For more information about Metatron and Drone Volt Academy, call 304-896-1174. Travis Snyder can also be reached at tsnyder@metatronus.com.

Story originally published by Charleston Gazette Mail on July 26, 2019 by Robert Saunders.