Washington, DC to Houston, TX: Two Competing Visions for Drones

Two Competing Visions for Drones

Two competing visions for the future of drones are emerging and never before was it clearer than this week. Where one future includes franchising, non-specific operations that dominate the service landscape, the other requires domain and regional expertise with a clear understanding of how to operate in unique, safety focused conditions.

Whose Representing Whom for Drones?

Pres. Trump handles a Kespry UA alongside Kespry CEO George Matthew.

Technology companies from the drone, IOT, and transportation sector descended upon Washington, DC this week seeking further support and help from a White House pushing through major privatization efforts within the latest FAA budget reauthorization. While the lobbyist associations such as the Small UAV Coalition and public faces met in DC, specifics and opportunity through expertise and experience was the message in Houston, Texas. The companies in attendance in DC seem to each have the same approach to drones – provide one solution that can be moderately adjusted for all elements of industry. It makes sense in theory – economies of scale and franchise control provide easier access to big contracts and nationwide dominance. When it comes down to operations, however, customization and specific needs assessment matter – the energy industry gets it. Kespry and PrecisionHawk are both manufacturer service providers that seek to be the system of record for agriculture, construction, and solutions with orthomosaic, surveying, or mapping requirements.

I must say of all the companies in DC this week, PrecisionHawk deserves major kudos, they has always been fully enmeshed in the tech policy leadership in a way that is cooperative rather than confrontational; something I admire and appreciate. Airmap, represented by Pepperdine Law Professor Gregory McNeal, wants to digitize the sectional and help with real-time flight operations, while others there all look to apply their technology throughout American industry without real considerations to the needs of each industry segment. Measure, also in attendance, boasts a franchise model set to revolutionize the industry while, to date, having sold only one franchise in Illinois. It’s a good example of the wrong direction for unmanned aircraft system technology development; the one-size-fits all approach is

quickly being replaced – for both service providers and technology solutions – by vertical specific innovations driven by customer requirements, engagement, and feedback.

Energy Drone Summit: Model for the Future

The Energy Drone Summit that took place this week in Houston is a good example of the direction of the industry. Every conversation, booth, presentation, and solution focused on energy industry needs and program development. I was honored to be invited to give the morning workshop in collaboration with legal representative Sean Pribyl, of Blank Rome LLP. Together we tackled the concerns of program development where I focused on challenges to new programs, how to approach standardization and certification, in-sourcing vs out-sourcing with regard to operations, and considerations for achieving and effective, efficient, and safe program using only examples from the energy generation and distribution marketplace.

What’s clear to me is that the value of a vertical specific audience is in the acknowledgement of the very specific problems and solutions present to stakeholder needs. Presentations from Delair-tech on how exactly they overcome the technology challenges around high voltage lines in the United States and France immediately provided answers I can pass on to clients, while Senior Adviser  “Hoot” Gibson of FAA gave an update about flight over people, BVLOS, EVLOS operations, and the Critical Infrastructure addition to the Budget Extension Law in 2016. If you’d like to discuss any of these, feel free to contact Wolf UAS directly.

Key Takeaways from Energy Drone Coalition

Finally, some key takeaways that became clear when speaking to the big boys in the industry: Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips and Shell.

  1. Drones are being welcomed for mission sets that have clear, defined, and safe RoI.
  2. Risk Assessment and Safety Management is certainly in vogue, so all of you interested in the drone industry looking for partners with major corporations need to get on-board the safety train.
  3. Fully-autonomous operations are considered “pie-in-the-sky” and the program managers in charge of integration are not ready to have autonomous robotics operate on their own – in other words “it’ll be a tough sell.”
  4. Certification to industry best practices are essential for working on their company infrastructure
  5. There are leaders in the industry of energy, and they are all helping to develop a future focused community as advisers to the Drone Energy Coalition

Well, it was great to see many of our colleagues, partners, and clients in attendance presenting the very programs we helped to develop, recognized now as leaders in the field of energy.

If you still haven’t downloaded the free program development guide, you can click here: Where to Start with Drone Safety get it!

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