As evidenced by the mature corporate and general aviation industries, the drone industry has an opportunity to flourish with pilots who advocate proper standards. One prerequisite to getting a big contract for operating a drone for large organizations is understanding that these companies are risk-averse. They cannot risk hiring a contractor to operate drones for them if the operator cannot furnish proof of compliance to proper standards.
One way drone operators can begin developing this culture of safety is by implementing an SMS program, establishing documentation practices, and creating a drone operations manual.
Harrison Wolf is Technical Chair for the ASTM sUAS Operational Risk Assessment Standard, teaches safety management for drones at USC, and has his own drone consultancy called Wolf UAS. Harrison joins Ian to discuss how focusing on being a safe, compliant drone company can lead to huge rewards and has the benefit of setting yourself apart from the crowd of casual drone pilots.
Drone Industry Review is a special podcast series brought to you by Commercial Drones FM. It briefs listeners on the most important and newsworthy happenings from the previous quarter in the drone industry. Covered topics include drone hardware, software, regulations, funding, M&A, delivery drones, and how drones affected various industries in that quarter. The inaugural episode begins with the Drone Industry Review of Q1 2017.
Iris Automation is a Y Combinator startup who recently raised $1.5 million in seed funding to bring sense and avoid technology to drones used for industry. Buzz words like computer vision, deep learning, and artificial intelligence only begin to scratch the surface in describing what the company is building.
To sense issues and avoid them, powerful onboard drone hardware allows Iris Automation's software to track birds and other aircraft, predict their trajectories, reconstruct the scene in 3D at hundreds of meters of range, and then notify the drone operator of issues in real-time—or even take evasive action autonomously.
Alex Harmsen is CEO and co-founder of Iris Automation and joins Ian to discuss why sense and avoid technology is a requirement for building trust in industrial drones—and ultimately, how it should make them boring.
This is the story behind GoPro's harrowing entry into the global drone market. Just 6 days after GoPro released Karma, their first flagship drone, units began to inexplicably fall out of the sky, triggering a global recall of the product. There were many events that led up to this point but were previously unknown to the public. Forbes Staff Writer Ryan Mac joins Ian and tells the tale of how GoPro's Karma drone came to be, how it was rushed for release, and the ensuing aftermath of the global recall once these drones came crashing down. This story is based on Ryan Mac's Forbes article titled, "The Sky Is Falling For GoPro."
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.