Florida Keys Mosquito Control District officials received their first look at another possible weapon in the never-ending war against mosquitoes.
The district is considering the use of drones, which are fitted with videocameras, to scout remote areas and offshore islands that need to be treated with pesticides and larvicides.
Condor Aerial Optics, a firm specializing in remotely piloted unmanned aircraft, gave district officials and the media a drone demonstration at Knight's Key in Marathon on Monday. News reports about the district using drones "have gone viral" on the Internet, Condor CEO Fred Culbertson said. Media from as far away as Germany attended Monday's demonstration.
The company's drones have been configured for military and police use, as well as aerial surveillance, search and rescue and disaster relief -- but never for mosquito control, Culbertson said.
"This is as new for us as it is for them," Culbertson said. "After the demonstration, they will have to decide whether this is worth taking the next step."
The demonstration will continue today and district officials will decide in the coming weeks whether to move forward on purchasing or possibly leasing a drone.
"We are trying to look at every scenario and see if it fits into our plans," Mosquito Control Offshore Islands Supervisor Corey Brindisi said.
The $65,000, battery-powered aircraft can fly for one hour before requiring recharging, and can be controlled remotely within a six-mile range, said district Director Michael Doyle.
If the signal is lost, the drone will fly back to base, Doyle said.
Mosquito Control officials would have the ability to plot a course or have the aircraft stop and circle, he said, adding that it can fly up to 35 mph.
The district has set aside $80,000 in next year's budget to lease the drone, Doyle said.
Mosquito Control has made a considerable investment in technology this year. It also set aside $300,000 for a new computer system that incorporates GPS technology, enabling field inspectors and helicopter pilots to increase their efficiency, Doyle said.