Flight of Innovation: How Drone Tech is Bridging Rural Communities

Alana Mongkhounsavath


Innovation. The word evokes images of fantastical high-rises, robot-filled factories, driverless cars, and… cowboys? For most of us, innovation hubs are buzzing metropolises—and not necessarily a city known for rodeos and woolen mills. But that’s what Pendleton, Oregon is.

Sitting almost exactly halfway between Portland and Boise, Idaho, is Pendleton, a town that fully embraces a Wild West aesthetic, with Stetsons outnumbering slouch beanies by a wide margin. But how do you bring the 1820s into the 2020s? You take a former World War II bomber facility and provide something that most high-tech cities can’t: endless sky.

Join me at AU where we’ll talk about how Autodesk’s Outsight Network resident, Pendelton UAS Range, was born to solve a community need for economic growth—and ended up being so much more: a fully functioning test facility for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and now, a Center of Innovation Excellence. As they like to say, “there’s a reason a drone isn’t proven until it’s proven in Pendleton.”

A rural area is the best fit for the needs of UAS projects and the companies that are developing them. Unlike an urban setting where buildings, decibels, and jurisdictions create many barriers, there are often very few restrictions in a rural area. When testing a UAS for flight, the Pendleton UAS Range is fully equipped to suit the needs of any company.

In addition to its advantageous location, this rural city has connected and engaged its innovators with the local community. By connecting the Indigenous community and current customer, Spright UAS, the startup helped solve a supply chain issue at a local hospital. Silent Arrow has engaged hard-to-reach communities with a single-use UAS system. Many of these connections start at the communal event, Drinks n’ Drones (now known as Brats N Brews), where I personally witnessed how these relationships can begin. This focus on connection has sparked levels of engagement from the communities it serves and made its mark outside of the annual Pendleton Roundup rodeo and the well-known Pendleton Woolen Mills.

These challenges are not unique to Oregon. Rural communities around the United States are facing the same issues of economic stability and growth. The question then becomes: can this rural model for innovation and impact be replicated? And if so, how?

Join us at AU as we lead with impact to explore this question. In conversation with Pendleton and Amazon, we’ll detail the journey of how the economic challenges of one city also became a major opportunity for innovation and growth in the community.

Get in touch

Have we piqued your interest? Get in touch if you’d like to learn more about Autodesk Research, our projects, people, and potential collaboration opportunities

Contact us