Boulder is once again putting its name on the map with a local drone engineering company that has just signed on with NASA. The company, named Black Swift, has just signed a $875,000 contract to monitor temperatures, winds, and gases at volcano sites, the data which will be used to better predict ash and other dangerous emissions that are propelled into the atmosphere. The Black Swift drones have already tested their stuff against fires, floods, and tornadoes, and now they are looking to conquer their next adversary.

The Black Swift company was started by Jack Elston and Maciej Stachura, two Aerospace Engineering  PhD students from the University of Colorado. Elston started as an engineering consultant at a local start up before teaming up with Stachura to start Black Swift. They both have extremely impressive resumes, and have both participated in other odd jobs for NASA including soil moisture mapping, which helps to predict floods, monitor droughts, and support crop production, and have helped NASA build software for UAVs.

The first UAV, or unmanned aerial vehicle, was thought to be used in 1849 when Austrians attacked Venice with an unpiloted balloon carrying explosives. Later, during the first World War in 1916, the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane was developed and designed to fly unpiloted and controlled via radio waves.  The plane would fly to a predetermined altitude, on a predetermined course, and drop bombs on a predetermined location. Many adjustments had to be made, and the Hewitt-Sperry went through a wide range of innovations. During the Vietnam era drones were used as spy planes, and currently drones have become even more sophisticated, revolutionizing warfare, and allowing for remote target killings.

However, thanks to companies like Black Swift and the commercialization of UAVs, drones are also used for recreation: filming for movies, recording your epic down hill mountain biking, and just playing around in your backyard. And also for more educational and environmental use as Black Swift has demonstrated, allowing for a productive and positive strategy to help agencies monitor various landscapes to improve our health and safety.

Theresa Duncan is primarily a student of writing and lover of literature, currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, England. She has previously worked for Ocean Magazine and the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, and enjoys learning about the esoteric eccentricities of every town she visits. She loves books of all kinds, climbing and bouldering around Colorado, and drinking a jag of Pimms with her tutors when she’s in England. She has a BA from California Lutheran University in English and hopes to eventually pursue a Ph.D in Literature.