GONZALES — In the dystopian future portrayed by the movie franchise "Terminator," jet-powered drones with laser guns, known as "hunter-killers," scanned the planet from the skies to destroy the remnants of humanity.
Though Skynet, the artificial intelligence that controlled those fictional drones, may not yet be "self-aware," the drone future is now in Ascension Parish — and under human control.
An $8,000, eight-propeller drone arrived Tuesday that parish government officials recently bought to spray and kill mosquito larvae in the waterways and other wet places where they grow in the parish.
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"This is a great tool for us," said David Matassa, Ascension Parish's mosquito control director. "Because larvicide is the most important thing you can do for mosquitoes actually. You're at the birthplace of the mosquito. You're preventing them from becoming an adult."
Matassa and several parish employees were on hand late Tuesday morning at Lamar-Dixon Expo Center for a media demonstration of the drone that preceded a training session for workers in the Ascension Parish Mosquito Control department.
Adam Shaw, president and CEO of Maverick Drone Systems of Savage, Minnesota, and Logan Noess, company executive vice president, delivered the drone, unpacked it from its carrying case and extended the eight propeller arms until the tail-less craft reached its 4- to 5-foot width and was ready for flight.
The men then filled its three-gallon tank with bottled water, and Noess flew the drone with a remote control through several passes, spraying a small patch of a Lamar-Dixon field with the water.
Shaw said the drone, which is battery-powered and recharges in a regular electrical outlet, can cover seven to 10 acres in single battery charge.
Known as the DJI Agras MG-1, the drone was created for agricultural spraying. DJI is a Chinese drone manufacturer, and Maverick is the U.S. dealer for the Agras. Shaw said the craft has made spraying quicker, more efficient and more flexible than using planes or helicopters through traditional aerial spraying methods.
"The Agras has really revolutionized farming, agriculture and, certainly, the mosquito abatement community, which is why we're here," Shaw said.
While some parishes already use drones for mosquito surveillance, Matassa said Ascension is the first parish in Louisiana to use drones to kill mosquitoes or their offspring directly. But Matassa and Shaw said they expect the use of drones to expand quickly.
Shaw said he has received a lot of "really good feedback" from other parish governments in the state.
"I think this is something that is just going boom over here for the next three to five years," Shaw said.
He said his company has also been talking with law enforcement about using Maverick drones equipped with thermal cameras and other equipment that can be used for crime scene and car crash analysis. Shaw said company officials plan to meet with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office during their visit this week to Louisiana.
Shaw said his company has also gotten interest from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development for surveying and other uses.
Kyle Gautreau, Ascension Parish spokesman, said parish government could be looking at drones for other uses besides mosquito control, which he termed a pilot effort.
"If this works out really well, without a doubt, this will be explored by other departments for utilization," Gautreau said.
Ascension Parish's new drone doesn't have a camera, but flies by line of sight. Matassa said one parish employee is working on a federal license to fly the drone, and once the employee is licensed, spraying will start.
The parish will still use spray trucks and aerial spraying when needed to kill adult mosquitoes, but when the drone is in action, it will be spraying larvicide in hard to reach places.
"Next couple weeks, we'll be larviciding most probably area ditches, water lines and wherever there are low-lying areas that are hard to get to," Matassa said.