A Blog by Jonathan Low


Dec 8, 2016

Understanding the Scale and Scope of the Drone Industry

Drones' value will ultimately be as identifiers, gatherers and transmitters of data.JL

Jeremiah Karpowicz reports in Commercial UAV News:

Focus around how the data being gathered by a drone can and is being used, and how the cloud will soon be an essential part of that process. The old way of doing things was set up so that the mission determined what data was being gathered, while the new way of doing things allows the data to determine the mission. Drones have been treated as stand alone devices for too long, and the possibilities that will be opened up by leveraging the cloud are endless.
Talking about the “drone industry” as a set collection of people and groups that are all working toward the same goal isn’t really a fair way to characterize the individuals and organizations that comprise this space. Companies like Yuneec are inherently different than companies like Slantrange, just as the people who have been operating UAVs for years are inherently different from anyone who is newly looking to take to the sky under Part 107.
Those differences and distinctions were on full display at Interdrone 2016, which took place September 7-9th in Las Vegas. The event provides a great look at the scale and scope of this “drone industry” since it features insights, information and products for just about anyone who wants to operate a drone, regardless of their experience or industry. From the keynotes to the sessions to the exhibit floor, Interdrone is a great place to understand what it really means to be involved with and part of the drone industry, no matter how you want to define the term.

Insights from the Keynotes
huertaFar and away the biggest topic in the space has to do with FAA regulation, and while we’ve looked at the impact of Part 107 when the rule was announced as well as when became official, hearing about such things from Federal Aviation Administration Michael P. Huerta provides a completely different perspective. With Part 107 having just gone into effect, his Grand Opening Keynote address was definitive in a way that his one at XPONENTIAL was not, but he was quick to point out that the FAA would not have gotten this rule out if it tried to go it alone. He mentioned the many collaborations and partnerships that that FAA had formed with the industry, and that the FAA will continue to look to provide a balance between innovation and safety as everyone in the space agrees that they want to see the safe integration of UAVs.
Gregory McNeal’s address also touched on the current state of regulation which he acknowledged as a positive, but he’s already thinking beyond it. He recognized that Part 107 was the rule that everyone has been asking for, but he’s thinking about the logistics of what it will mean to have millions of drones in the sky at the same time. The future is a world where millions of operations will take place between 200-400 feet, which is why he’s focused on the technology that will help solve our problems, not on policy. He highlighted that the way forward isn’t about the rules that will keep us safe, but about the technology that will.
Chris Anderson’s keynote was probably the widest scope of anyone who presented. His focus was around how the data being gathered by a drone can and is being used, and how the cloud will soon be an essential part of that process. The old way of doing things was setup so that the mission determined what data was being gathered, while the new way of doing things allows the data to determine the mission. Much of that will be based on an open loop system, where a drone is communicating with the cloud and we’ll be able to see real time streaming of data analysis so that mission can be adjusted and the proper info can be gathered. Anderson is focused on what it will mean when drones and data are fully connected, so that instead of “sense and avoid” technology, we’ll be able to see “fence and avoid”, which will keep drones from venturing into places to shouldn’t be based on collective maps and real-time feedback. Drones have been treated as stand alone devices for far too long in his opinion, and the possibilities that will be opened up by leveraging the cloud are endless.
For more about how 3DR is looking at the present and future, check out an in-depth interview with Daniel McKinnon, Director of Product at 3DR.
DSC00160Robert Blair is the VP of Agriculture for Measure, but first and foremost he is a farmer, and he made sure everyone in the audience saw that when he walked on the stage to deliver his keynote. He wanted to illustrate the stereotype that most people have about farmers, but quickly pointed out that anyone who thinks of famers in such limited terms don’t realize they’re typically dealing with the CEO’s of multinational, million dollar companies. He’s been a farmer all his life, and answering the question of how he can improve his production is one he’s dealt with in many respects, and drones are making a major impact on that answer. He pointed out that capabilities like face recognition in animals and laser weeding will change things, but none of it can be about shoving the technology down people’s throats. There needs to be an understanding of the customers and their needs. Check out an interview we put together with Blair from earlier this year to read more about his perspective around the impact UAVs can and are having on the farm.

Jonathan Evans and Thomas Haun during the "Next Generation Farming with UAV Commercialization" session
Jonathan Evans and Thomas Haun during the “Next Generation Farming with UAV Commercialization” session
Session Takeaways
Session topics ranged from very general things like “10 Drone Tips for Successful Videos” to very specific applications, like “How UAVs are Going to Change Real Estate Marketing and the Opportunities for Real Estate UAV Operators”. It was interesting to see the dichotomy between the people who were clearly new to the space and looking to get some very basic info with the people who have been operating for a long time and came with some very specific questions they wanted to see addressed. There are a lot of questions around how drones can be effectively utilized, and answers often depend on a user’s experience and industry.
DSC09958“Building a Drone Service Company Under Part 107: Everything You Need to Succeed” was packed and clearly filled with people who either have or will soon be getting their certificate under Part 107. Presenter Enrico Schaefer ran through the basics around what operators can and cannot do under Part 107, and also explored the concept of how comfortable people can be when running their business. For example, because operators no longer need to get the permission of someone to fly over their property with a UAV, figuring out whether to fly over that space if a person makes an issue about it can be a matter of preference for an operator or business. He also talked through how competitive the space will be since Part 107 is now official, as well as how to approach businesses that might be looking to bring in service providers.
“FAA Regulations: The Latest Outlook” brought together FAA and legal experts to discuss whether the FAA got it right under Part 107, among other topics. While Hoot Gibson from the FAA said that the administration is in an unprecedented positioning of accepting praise for their work on 107, Brendan Schulman of DJI was quick to mention that Part 107 was a great first step, but there is still room for regulation to grow and expand. The panel talked through some of the micro UAS recommendations that are out there, as well as what the shift from enterprise to pilot certificate will mean for businesses that have a certain person operating their drone.
“Saving Lives: Firefighting and Search and Rescue Tactics” provided an incredible look at what it means for emergency professionals to use UAVs. The panel discussed how 107 has been a bit of a Catch 22 situation since it makes flying easier, but represents a wholly different process than what they were used to under the 333 Exemption. The most interesting thing that came up was how the biggest hindrance for them is public perception. Feedback from the public can get out of hand because of privacy concerns, which has forced them to start small by using something familiar. Being able to educate the public around what it means to use UAVs will compel the biggest change for emergency response and search & rescue professionals.
How precision agriculture professionals can see an ROI from their drone investment is another topic that we’ve explored, but the “Drone Opportunities for Precision Agriculture” broke down the topic from the perspective of a few different professionals who are working in that space. Dr. Charles Malveaux discussed eight areas for ROI with aerial remote sensing in agriculture, which included enhanced crop scouting, reduced chemical application and UAV based crop density mapping. They talked about how the technology and vision are there in the precision agriculture space. Now it’s just a matter of bringing them together.
One of the biggest challenges for operators of all types and sizes right now is around what should be done with the information pulled from a drone. Being able to avoid drowning in drone data is a major concern, and the “Drones and Big Data (Make the Most of Your Imagery)” session addressed that concept head on. Presenter David Preznuk talked through the importance of preparation, involving customers early and having an emergency plan. He mentioned that enriching data only happens with foresight, and needs to be application specific. Questions about owning the data versus putting it into the cloud are coming up more and more, which goes back to being prepared with a process to handle all of these details as they come up.
“Mapping the World – Innovation in LiDAR and 3D Mapping” brought together some of the bigger names in the surveying & mapping space to discuss how drones are impacting professionals. They took some time to focus on what it means to use photogrammetry or LiDAR, as well as when one is a better choice than the other. Moderator Colin Snow (aka the Drone Analyst) made sure to explore how and why a professional might go with one approach versus the other, as well as what sort of info users can expect when utilizing both. Panelist Will Tompkinson talked through a few of the details he shared in his recent series on SPAR3D.com, which culminated with The Real Signs of a Good UAV Strategy.
Service providers who are looking to create a business via their drone were all over the event looking for answers around how to figuratively get off the ground. The “Ways to Fund Your Drone Business” brought together people on both sides of the funding process to talk through what it means to seek and grant funding. They talked through details around what it means to fail fast, the pros and cons of different crowdfunding platforms as well as what the missing voice at the boardroom table might be. One of the most important points raised during the session was around the concept of thinking beyond the investment, as anyone looking for funding needs to go a step beyond what they need the money for and be able to talk about their vision. Moderator Christopher Korody kept the panel focused on the topic and got them to talk through some specific examples.
See what else CK had to say about being at the event.
A Trip Through the Exhibit Floor
realleslieBoth Yuneec and Multicopter Warehouse had especially large booths on the show floor, but there was plenty of interesting technology throughout the area. senseFly had previously announced the eBee SQ Precision Agriculture Drone, and they were showing it off at the event. ProDrones also had a great looking booth and were there to showcase drones which have been designed to perform specific physical tasks. Our team also stopped by the Little Arms Studios to get a virtual sense of what it means to operate a drone.


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