TRENTON — A group of New Jersey lawmakers held a special meeting at the State House with representatives from New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rutgers University, Stockton University, Rowan University and the Stevens Institute of Technology to discuss efforts being made to develop drone technology in the Garden state.

Don Sebastian, president and CEO of the New Jersey Innovation Institute at NJIT, said drones can be used in all sorts of different ways, including “delivering emergency medical supplies to a ship stranded offshore, and then recovering samples when brought back to doctors on shore for diagnosis.”

He pointed out drones can also be used to set up portable cell phone relay towers.

“It’s an antenna in the sky, so that when ground-based infrastructure is compromised, first-responders, who have their own unique communication frequency can use the cell phone tower to talk to each other,” he said.

Sebastian said smaller whirly-bird drones could also be used in the war against mosquitoes that carry dangerous viruses like Zika and West Nile.

"There are plenty of remote places where you can’t get easily on foot to see, 'Is there a bog there? Is there a water collecting and are there larva there?'" he said.

“The drone can actually, we believe, that’s our next test, set down, take water samples and bring them back for analysis, and even deliver the larvicide that would kill the infecting mosquito.”

Sebastian said drones could also be used for traffic control and traffic inspection, as well as fire control.

“Drones can be used to put out a fire on an electrical fire at the top of a cell phone tower or a high tension line, we can send drones where it’s hard to get people, in order to deliver the goods,” he said.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney was impressed by what he heard.

“This is like watching the birth of the Internet. The sky really is the limit in this technology. It’s brand new. I didn’t know they had drones that could go underwater, and you’re seeing drones used for security in the air as well,” he said.

Sweeney added: “This industry has come a great way in a short distance and it’s going to go a hell of a lot further. It’s great to see New Jersey leading the way. It really gives us a chance to highlight some of the great things New Jersey is doing.”

Sebastian said underwater drones can be used for bridge and other infrastructure inspection.

He said part of the job of the Innovation Institute is to serve as a docking station for all of the universities involved in drone research and development, “and help them take academic work and move it into commercial practice and work with small and mid-size companies and even large companies, put that whole soup together so we can create innovation ecosystems.”

He said a lot of drone work is already underway at the Cape May County airport, which is now serving as a sort of drone hub, and the idea is to develop an area where other companies will want to locate and form partnerships

“Drone technology is here to stay. What we have to figure out is how to make them productive, how to make them useful and how to make them safe,” he said.
“We think it’s wonderful New Jersey is able to take a lead position here in really demonstrating how to do it safely and properly and do it with great impact.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, a drone was sent airborne for a short flight in an adjacent room.

State Sens. Jim Whelan, Jeff Van Drew and Sandra Cunningham joined Sweeney at the event.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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