EAST AMWELL — When James Barnes saw the potential for unmanned aircraft eight years ago, and told his wife he was going to retire and start a drone business, she laughed.

Today, his ever-growing list of clients — as president and founder of New Jersey Drone Academy — includes the FBI, the New Jersey Department of Transportation, dozens of schools and the Somerset County Sheriff's Office.

"I was just out flying a $4,000 drone this morning, and smiling the whole time I was doing it," Barnes told New Jersey 101.5.

Barnes sees a future in which every home will have a drone, just like every home today has a television and computer.

So his Academy, launched four years ago, is giving individuals and companies a head start on the skills needed, or doing the work for interested parties.

Through Barnes' operation, which includes his two sons, the DOT has been trained on how to inspect bridges with drones. The Sheriff's Office can track a lost dementia patient within minutes. The New Jersey Farm Bureau can count deer as they record crop damage.

"We even have underwater drones," Barnes said.

Several schools and colleges throughout the state have also enlisted the help of Barnes and his $100,000 worth of training drones. Their "Code with Drones" program gives students the ability to send drones on autonomous missions.

And, like it first started, Barnes' business offers lessons to the everyday resident who's interested in flying from down below. Last year, the Academy had students ranging in age from 8 to 108, Barnes said.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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