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Partnership aims to help New Mexico tribe monitor its land

January 6, 2019
In this Dec. 18, 2018, photo, wildflower International is looking to drones to diversify its Santa Fe, N.M., business. A Native American community in northern New Mexico will soon get help from solar-powered drones to monitor its vast land holdings from above. (Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A Native American community in northern New Mexico will soon get help from solar-powered drones to monitor its vast land holdings from above.

Under a new partnership with Santa Fe-based Wildflower International, unmanned aerial systems made by Albuquerque-based Silent Falcon UAS Technologies will assist Pojoaque Pueblo in managing its roaming bison herd, mapping cultural sites and improving fire control and search-and-rescue efforts.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the flights will begin this month.

The project will provide an opportunity for Wildflower to train its newly-formed UAS flight team. It’s a new business for Wildflower, a 27-year-old information technology firm that Kimberly deCastro built into a company with more than 83 employees.

Since launching in 1991, Wildflower has relied almost exclusively on federal contracts for information technology products and services to grow its business. But given the rise of the cloud and plummeting costs for IT systems and services, profit margins are shrinking and the company is pivoting to the rapidly growing market for drone services.

“UAS operations are opening a lot more doors for us,” deCastro said. “It’s an emerging market that we’re investing heavily in.”

Wildflower partnered in 2018 with Silent Falcon, which equips its solar-powered drones with infrared cameras and other sensors for real-time surveillance and imaging. It sells the system to public and private entities worldwide, but it’s now moving into service-based contracts to operate its system for customers.

It wants to break into federal contracting, said Silent Falcon CEO John Brown.

Wildflower already scored its first UAS contract to provide services with Silent Falcon drones to the U.S. Homeland Security Department starting in April. To do that, Wildflower’s new six-member flight team needs to train in real-world terrain, which the Pojoaque partnership provides.

“We need to be accurate and safe and deliver the right data set to our customers,” deCastro said. “We need experience so when we fly for agencies it looks like the Air Force just showed up.”

Wildflower purchased two Silent Falcons, which will fly at Pojoaque.

In addition to its monitoring services, the company also will train pueblo members for UAS careers, something particularly appealing to Pojoaque Gov. Joseph Talachy.

“To be successful tomorrow, the members of the pueblo need to gain the skills for the jobs of tomorrow,” Talachy said in a statement. “There seems to be no doubt that unmanned aircraft is a technology that has huge growth potential.”

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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