WSU seeks federal approval for hydrogen fuel cell powered UAV

Washington State University is waiting for federal regulations to allow research of unmanned aerial vehicles in agricultural research says Ralph Cavalieri, associate vice president for alternative energy.

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University hopes federal authorities will allow researchers to explore the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for agricultural purposes.

The Federal Aviation Administration controls the air space, said Ralph Cavalieri, associate vice president for alternative energy for WSU. Above 18,000 feet, movement of aircraft is tightly controlled. Below 18,000 feet, the rules are visual, “see and be seen,” Cavalieri said.

“Herein is the problem — we now have vehicles without a pilot,” he said.

For the moment, the only legal use of UAVs is as a hobby, Cavalieri said. No one can fly them for employment except under very special circumstances approved by the FAA.

“The problem is people will buy one of these things, and as hobbyists you can go and use it, but if you’re using it for commercial purposes, technically, it’s illegal,” Cavalieri said. “We want to do the research because we know that agriculture is likely to be a huge user of this technology, but right now we can’t do the research.”

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