Many people pass through our offices in Alexandra from day to day, but nothing like the number who were there on the 16th of August. The large room in the CSST office, after weeks of preparation, became a mission control centre, with a dozen staff from New Zealand, Australian and US companies operating a complex suite of communication systems, flying state-of-the-art surveillance drones from the airfield, and demonstrating how such technologies could be vitally important in civil disasters or military operations – all watched by forty senior decision-makers from the NZ Defence Force, Fire and Emergency NZ, NZ Police, NZ Transport Agency, and a wide range of other governmental and commercial organisations.
The Mayor of Central Otago, Tim Cadogan, lit the metaphorical touch paper and the technology burst into life, with a fleet of large drones zipping around the skies from Alexandra’s airport so as to simulate the utility of such a networked system in the case of something like an earthquake, a major road accident, a ship foundering at sea or a big bushfire.
The main organisers of the event were SkyBase, a Christchurch-based company which operates UAVs (uninhabited aerial vehicles) carrying a range of sensors for mapping, monitoring ongoing events on the ground, and also providing aerial communications networking for the provision of beyond-line-of-sight operations.
SkyBase teamed with MAG Aerospace (a US company specialising in airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations), CIStech Solutions (an Australian provider of radio over internet protocol and networking capabilities) and CSST in order to put on a demonstration of how UAVs could be run from a DNOC (Deployable Network Operations Centre).
In essence the idea is that a DNOC could be kept ready for rapid dispatch to some location where aerial coverage would be of vital significance. Having electronic eyes in the sky would enable better choices to be made by commanders.
Why Alexandra? Apart from CSST being located there, with suitable office space to become a DNOC for a day, the weather of Central Otago (even in frigid August) gave the best chance for a successful exhibition.
All in all, the exercise ran like clockwork. More than that, UAVs like those demonstrated could be of invaluable service to CSST in the future, collecting imagery for tasks such as scanning vineyards to monitor plant health and grape growth, or scanning croplands to assess when fertilisers or pesticides should be applied, and in what quantities.