Ian reunites with past drone industry colleague, Gretchen West, who is Senior Advisor for Innovation & Technology at Hogan Lovells and Co-Executive Director of the Commercial Drone Alliance. Gretchen has been in the drone industry for 13 years. She brings her refreshingly pragmatic views to the podcast to give a lesson on how power is balanced between President Trump's administration and the FAA. Gretchen also reveals that Section 333 "closed set" exemptions were quietly revoked by the FAA and reviews the challenges of their waiver process, which is available to commercial drone operators. Gretchen and Ian close with some realistic advice to those who are interested in starting a company in the drone industry and suggestions on where the greatest opportunities exist.
On February 26th, 2017, DJI announced the new Matrice 200 platform at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The Matrice 200 comes in three variants; the M200, M210, and M210 RTK. This new drone platform marks DJI's serious and well-considered entry into industrial-grade drones for enterprise. With hugely useful features like ADS-B, dual and top-mounted gimbals, redundancy, and IP43 classification, this multirotor is poised as an incredible threat to senseFly's Albris, Intel's Falcon 8, and Aerialtronics' Altura Zenith (among others). An estimated 38 minutes of flight time and compatibility with the latest Zenmuse suite of cameras round out the DJI M200's impressive specs. The only thing DJI has left to do is deliver.
Airware is a commercial drone company which was founded in 2011, a couple of years before the drone industry truly began to explode in popularity. They're somewhat notorious for having raised more venture capital funding than nearly any other drone company—over $100 million. Airware recently acquired Redbird, a drone software business which specializes in providing solutions to the mining and quarry industry. Furthermore, shortly after this interview took place, Airware announced that they took on a strategic investment from Caterpillar, the global leader in construction machinery. Buddy Michini, Airware's CTO, has been with the company since the beginning. Buddy sits down with Ian to discuss Airware's history, their strategic enterprise focus towards the mining and utility industries, and reveal learnings from 9 years in commercial drones. The conversation also touches on Airware's work with State Farm Insurance and tips on what skills are useful to start a career in the drone industry.
AT&T has 65,000 cell sites around the U.S. which require constant maintenance. Some of these cell sites can be towers that are hundreds of feet high and others can be massive stadiums with hundreds of antennae. The site maintenance is accomplished by 15,000 tower technicians. Technicians perform their tasks by risking their lives, physically climbing up the cell towers, or burn lots of time walking around stadiums for entire weeks, testing signal strength. Art Pregler is the Director of Construction & Engineering Mobility Systems at AT&T. The company moved from a drone "exploratory phase" in 2015 to "fully operational" in September 2016, with an entirely outsourced model—hiring 3rd party drone service providers. AT&T employs these drone service providers to inspect their cell towers via aerial photos, videos, photogrammetry, and even machine learning. Ian coaxes Art to reveal how—among other things—using drones decreased AT&T's cell site maintenance times from one week, to just four hours, a 900% savings.
Thomas Haun is Executive Vice President of PrecisionHawk, a drone company in North Carolina with $29 million in total venture funding. Besides developing their own software, making a fixed-wing drone, and reselling DJI drones, PrecisionHawk works on beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) regulatory research with the FAA on the Pathfinder program. Additionally, the company develops LATAS, a technology for the future of airspace management. And to round it all out, PrecisionHawk even owns a satellite imagery company called TerraServer. Thomas and Ian discuss the dichotomy between commercial drones and regulations, the future of PrecisionHawk, and the fact that a drone can literally kill you—but also save your life.
Steve Hogan is an attorney in Florida whose firm specializes in drone law. He's also the host and creator of the Drone Law Today podcast. Ian and Steve sync up over the airwaves to grapple with some hotly debated (and controversial) drone legal issues. Who owns the airspace above my house? Is shooting a drone out of the sky a federal offense? What will Trump's administration do for—or against—commercial drones? And Do I need a Part 107 certificate to compete in drone FPV racing for money? Steve and Ian make a concentrated, joint effort to get to the bottom of these issues and settle them once and for all. Unsurprisingly, it gets pretty complicated.
Lily Robotics has spectacularly failed and is being sued by the City of San Francisco. CES 2017 is said to have had fewer drone companies than previous years. Parrot laid off a third of its drone division. GoPro's Karma drone literally fell out of the sky. The FAA has issued their largest fine, ever. Does this mean the drone industry is in a decline? April Glaser, who covers robots, drones, artificial intelligence and other smart machines for Recode, joins Ian to discuss these events and others. Tune in for analysis on the latest drone industry news as 2017 gets off to an exciting start.
Romeo Durscher is Director of Education at DJI, the world's largest, most successful drone manufacturer. His job is one of the most fascinating in the world. Romeo acts as global ambassador for safe and effective use of drone technology. His mission takes him all over the planet—from tackling safety challenges with the United Nations in the Maldives, exploring caves in Vietnam with ABC's Good Morning America, and pioneering drone use with mountain search and rescue teams on a glacier. Romeo and Ian speak about all of this—including DJI's plans for their DJI Enterprise division—for a truly epic episode of Commercial Drones FM.
With over 500 million acres of land under their management, the Department of the Interior (DOI) is the largest single landowner in the United States. The DOI maintains this land for U.S. citizens and in order to keep eyes on it, have 1,200+ aircraft in their fleet—drones included. Mark Bathrick, an ex-Navy TOPGUN fighter and test pilot, is the Director of Aviation (OAS) for the DOI and joins Ian to discuss how an organization of 70,000 employees make use of drones and how aviation plays such a critical role in their success. From fighting forest fires and monitoring wildlife, to maintaining the Statue of Liberty and giving us the 4 key competencies that drone companies need to master for success, Mark's experience provides a wealth of wisdom for anyone who uses drones commercially.
LiDAR is an impressive and interesting sensor technology which already powers parts of the driverless car industry. LiDAR sensors can somewhat be thought of as a clever mixture of photogrammetry and radar. It is extremely precise and can provide incredibly accurate datasets. Harris Wang, Strategic Markets Director at Velodyne LiDAR Inc., joins Ian to explore how LiDAR is being used on drones. Industries like utilities, surveying, forestry, and inspection can reap insane benefits by using LiDAR—but it has historically been quite heavy and very expensive. Harris explains how the technology is becoming cheaper and smaller, how LiDAR compares to photogrammetry, and how it is being used today and in the future.
Topographic data is some of the most sought after information that can be generated by drones. To ultimately derive this data, terrain contours, point clouds, and digital surface models are created using software like Pix4D and Autodesk Civil 3D. Mark Blacklin is Data Integration and CAD Supervisor at CGRS, a Colorado-based construction, engineering, and compliance service company that serves the petroleum industry. Mark and Ian discuss the complexities of high precision drone missions, drone hardware and software, GPS systems used (RTK, check points), tips for setting ground control points, and what types of deliverables high-end clients expect.
The United States' NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has many responsibilities but they can essentially be thought of as the federal government's "Environmental Intelligence Agency". Robbie Hood, a meteorologist by trade, is the Director of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program at NOAA. Ian and Robbie discuss the challenges and complexities of how NOAA uses drones for mapping of coastal erosion, studying sea level changes, populations of fisheries and marine mammals, and monitoring weather conditions across their territory of the entire United States—with a budget of $5 million per year.
DroneDeploy is a drone data company who recently raised $20 million to power the further development of their software. Tens of thousands of users from more than 135 countries have collectively processed more than 8 million acres of data using DroneDeploy—larger than the entire country of Belgium. Mike Winn, a serial entrepreneur and ex-Google employee, is CEO and co-founder of DroneDeploy. Mike and Ian discuss how the company has found success, DroneDeploy's release of the world's first App Market for drone data, the relationship between the enterprise and drone service providers, and what the next big thing will be for drones.
Bechtel is a massive, global company that tackles multi-billion dollar mega-projects. They plan on integrating drones into their operations for use in their infrastructure, mining, oil and gas, and government services projects. Today, their elaborate drone evaluation is nearly complete. Nate Fuller, Bechtel's Lead UAV Investigator, meets with Ian to reveal the steps it takes for a global enterprise to fully adopt drones—what they look for in hardware and software, how they manage global regulations, the use cases they will implement, and more. This is a fascinating look inside of a company that Fortune magazine says has "changed the face of the physical world more than any other."
With so much noise surrounding the drone industry, whose opinion are you supposed to trust? Colin Snow AKA "The Drone Analyst" joins Ian to explain why his team's thoughtful, pragmatic approach to analyzing the drone industry sets them apart. Colin and Ian dispel myths surrounding the most common misconceptions with drones, the biggest opportunities that exist for drone companies, and what he believes it the most exciting thing happening in the drone industry right now.