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South Bend looks to expand drone, advanced technology program

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -

If South Bend gets a multimillion-dollar grant it’s applying for, drones could one day be flying around downtown doing jobs for the city.

“What we’re looking toward – we’re building toward – here is the idea of network control of a number of drones flying throughout the city for various use cases,” said Nick Laneman, with Notre Dame’s Wireless Institute.

In a demonstration outside the O’Brien Recreation Center in South Bend Monday, it wasn’t a bird or a plane flying in the sky, but – potentially – the future in South Bend.

The event was held as the city prepares to apply for a grant from the National Science Foundation to continue experimenting with new technology.

“For us, having the capacity of managing drones in a more at-scale version, which is what this wireless technology allows you to do, is being able to coordinate multiple drones and being able to deploy drones without having to have a single operator kind of watching over the drone,” said Santiago Garces, South Bend’s chief innovation officer.  “That’s going to be important.”

The vision is drones that are operated by computers, not people.

The city is working with Notre Dame’s Wireless Institute and Metronet to expand its technological horizons.

Laneman and Garces said the dream is to have drones one day helping reconstruct car crashes, inspect trees, helping in water rescues and more.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg said this is just the beginning of a wireless renaissance in South Bend.

“We believe South Bend is a perfect testbed for new technology,” he said. “We’re a city that’s just big enough that we experience complexity at a certain scale, but just small enough that we can try new things.”

The grant the city wants is for $25 million.

The application is due in July. Four cities will be awarded it in January. 

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