MADE IN NEVADA: Drone America

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) -- On March 28, 2017 KOLO 8 News Now launched a new special series called "Made in Nevada". It's similar to David Muirs' "Made in America" series on ABC. The reports will air every other Tuesday during the 5:00 p.m. newscast.

The first report is featuring a local startup called Drone America. The business sits in a warehouse south of the Reno-Tahoe International Airport at 3555 Airway Dr #310 in Reno. Inside you can find custom made drones and it all started with a fluke encounter between the now President and CEO Mike Richards and three teenage boys who were fighting for their lives in Lake Tahoe.

Richards was jogging along Burnt Cedar Beach in Incline Village Tuesday February 20, 2001 when he noticed some commotion in the water.

"I suddenly heard their cries for help and there was actually a canoe, which was anchored up against the side along with its paddle. I pulled on the canoe and the chair came away from the canoe allowing me to put it in the water," Richards said.

The boys and their parents later signed an oar as a token of gratitude. The experience planted an idea in Richards' mind. If no one was available to save the boys a drone could be.

"For the first twelve months it started off as napkins sketches. It turned from a fascination into an obsession and finally into a business," said Richards.

Drone America was formed nine years after the water rescue in 2010 and today the napkin sketches are a reality. The Aerial Scooper Drone can drop 16 life rafts to victims trying to stay afloat. Each raft contains a tracking device to alert nearby planes of their locations. The bottom of the drone detaches to become a remote controlled boat.

At least 17 people have jobs at Drone America including six engineers.

"Every single one of them have their heart in a place where not only do they want to design, develop, produce, but they want to see their aircraft or their unmanned systems do something of value for people," Richards said.

As of March 2017 "Drone America" was actively building 14 custom made drones for corporations.

They do much more than save people. One drone is designed for cloud seeding. If turbulence knocks it out of the sky it deploys a parachute and falls safe to the ground.

Other drones are designed for surveillance work or transportation.

Mike and his team are working with two overseas groups to develop drones to detect tsunami's and to act as radio relays for fisherman in the Indian Ocean. For now the possibilities seem limitless for Drone America as it continues to push the boundaries of this new technology.

The cost to buy just one custom-made drone at Drone America ranges from $10,000 to $100,000.