Whether it’s snow machines, computers or oil rigs, Alaska has a long history of taking new technology and applying it in uniquely Alaskan ways, and the drone revolution is no different.

In this episode of Frontiers, we take you to St. Paul Island, a community 800 miles west of Anchorage -- out in the middle of the Bering Sea – where unmanned aircraft are being used to keep an eye on wildlife.

Here are some of the highlights of this week’s show:

  • Drone revolution: Why St. Paul Island’s tribal government sees drones as an economic development tool.
  • Pioneering new applications: How one tribal wildlife manager discovered he could use drones to herd reindeer on St. Paul Island.
  • The promise of drones: Dr. Richard Webb from the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Innovative Design Studio -- and Nick Kellie of K2 Dronotics -- look at what makes Alaska a great place to experiment with drone technology.

Right now, Alaska is in its Wild West phase of drone development – similar to the days when automobiles were first introduced, before stop signs and traffic lights. Yet at the same time, there’s a movement to change some of the existing rules and regulations for unmanned aircraft to fit Alaska’s very different flying environment.

Another sign the age of drones is upon us – the number of Alaskans who are conversant in drone-speak – almost a language unto itself with words like yaw, pitch and roll. One of my favorites is “dronie,” which is a “selfie” taken by a drone. 

From vast distances between communities -- to the lack of a road system in rural areas -- to our extreme weather, Alaska is a state with no shortage of challenges – an environment that has created a problem-solving culture in which drones seem to be a good fit.

We certainly have a lot of needs in Alaska. And when it comes to drones -- necessity, as the old adage says -- once again proves to be the mother of invention.

How far-fetched is it that we might see drones ferry cargo between communities – or even passengers? The technology, for the most part, is there. The know-how and the infrastructure, though, remains a work in progress. 

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