The Almost XPONENTIAL issue of Dronin' On 05.13.17
Birthday moon

Hi all –

At the last minute, I had to bail on XPONENTIAL. It’s been interesting to watch from a distance – and reassuring to know that life goes on.

If you’re wondering where to go next, I’d like to invite you to join me as my guest in Houston at the Energy Drone Coalition Summit, June 20-21. It is the only event that focuses on the business and technology of drones in the energy industry. I will be moderating a panel on Public Acceptance & Trust. I have five free
all-access passes, say please and I will send you the details.

The FAA released How Do We All Get Along? A Look at the FAA’s Strategy for UAS Integration into the NAS. Thanks to reader Shean B for the find. The piece offers a look into the FAA’s current thinking on UTM. The good news is that While there are still many questions and concerns to address, overall progress on UTM remains
on target.”

EASA, the European Aviation Space Agency, published a Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) for drone operations. The New York Times reported that “EASA’s proposals include requirements for drones to be remotely identifiable, to be fitted with geo-fencing technology to prevent them from entering prohibited zones such as airports and nuclear sites, and a requirement for people operating drones weighing more than 250 grams to register themselves.”

sUAS News added that “The final Opinion, which EASA will submit to the European Commission at the end of 2017, will take into account the feedback received to this NPA proposal.”

Going to be telling to see how the details shake out on remote identification and the use of geofencing since both impose technology and cost burdens.

Kicking things off at XPONENTIAL, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich lit up the crowd with a lot of showbiz telling them that Data is the new oil”. One thing that has been MIA since its introduction last October at InterDrone is the Intel Falcon 8+.

Nick Adde, writing for AUVSI reported that Krzanich presented a simulated bridge inspection using the Falcon and announced an arrangement between Intel and Airbus to conduct aircraft inspections. Regular readers will remember that Airbus used a Falcon 8 when they demoed this at the Farnborough Airshow
11 months ago.

All of which leads me to wonder what the holdup is – a year is forever in drone time. Apparently things aren’t great with Yuneec either. is reporting a story out of China that suppliers are picketing the factory to get paid. (Intel invested US$60M.) And there is absolutely nothing to be found on the much ballyhooed Intel® Aero Ready to Fly Drone and Aero Developer Platform which were announced at the Intel Developer Forum in August 2016.

But after a big night at the Coachella Music Festival, all appears to be well with the Intel Shooting Stars. Jeremiah Karpowicz did an in-depth interview with Natalie Cheung who is now Intel’s light show marketer-in-chief.

Writing in, Betsy Lillian reports on a BVLOS panel she attended at XPONENTIAL. Flying Drones Beyond Line of Sight: How Can We Get There? offered a wide range of lessons learned by the panelists.

Todd Graetz, Director, Technology Services / Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) at BNSF Railway noted that “The flying is the easy part; that’s the surprising thing. There is so much more to the large-scale use of unmanned systems than a flying object. It’s all the support systems – e.g., control systems, sensors, data analytics that are required to operate [drones] in scale.”

This next piece reinforces Todd’s point about complexity but makes me wonder if BVLOS might be closer than we think.

A piece in Rotor & Wing announced that “BNSF Railway and Rockwell Collins have completed a round of beyond line of sight (BLOS) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) test flights without visual observers [my emphasis]. Rockwell Collins said the tests were the “first true [BLOS] commercial UAS flights in the continental U.S.”

Some important clues here: “BNSF controlled the drone during testing with a control radio data link network from Rockwell Collins. The railway has its own licensed radio spectrum and telecommunications network.

Airbus made headlines too, using XPONENTIAL to announce the launch of Airbus Aerial, which will be run by industry vet Jesse Kallman, formerly with Airware.

In the press release, Kallman explained that “Drones are only a piece of a much larger picture for us. Airbus Aerial brings together a variety of aerospace technologies – including drones and satellites – combines them in a common software infrastructure, and applies industry-specific analytics to deliver tailored solutions to our customers’ biggest challenges.” There’s even a video. It’s a very
big idea.

Aviation Week has an extended interview that explores the synergies and business strategy in some detail.

And Bloomberg takes a swing at the development of the drone data market in Here Comes the War for Commercial Drone Dominance. Of course, a few things must happen first:

The proliferation of commercial drones won’t be so much about getting your pizza or new shirt faster—although there is that consideration—but a broader change in how companies employ aerial surveillance and data to inform their businesses, spurred by efficiency and new U.S. rules allowing commercial unmanned systems to operate at farther distances, autonomously.

For some fun assumptions about what all this might look like, Drone360’s Leah Froat offers The Compelling Economics Of Drone Delivery which is based on a new report by Skylark Drone Research. The report Forecast of the Commercial UAS Package Delivery Market argues that the last-mile cost delta will simply be too compelling for companies like Amazon and Walmart to ignore.

Our most pessimistic forecast for package delivery estimates more than 8 million operations per day within 20 years. Our optimistic forecast estimates 86 million package deliveries per day within 20 years.”

I like the timeline which makes a lot more sense than some. Then comes the same kicker as the Bloomberg story…

The issues relating to air traffic management (ATM) of such a large number of forecasted daily package delivery operations require attention at the policy level. One point seems certain: Congress is unlikely to have the money needed to build this system. What are the alternatives? Is this a blessing in disguise? What will the operational budget be? What is the business plan to maintain operations and replace and build out new systems?”

All million-dollar questions on a lot of minds.

Some additional questions from the very prolific Jonathan Rupprecht who continues to update Amazon Drone Delivery – 3 Major Legal Problems with Amazon Prime Air (2017).

Bringing it all together is the announcement Record Set for Longest Drone Urban Package Delivery in the U.S.Launched from a central Texas urban location, the UAV flew a preplanned route through the National Airspace System (NAS) using a combination of a mobile command and control (C2), a visual observer team, and stationary visual observers (VO) located across the flight route were equipped with enhanced radios and cell phone communications which allowed the UAV to be flown using a cellular communications link until it successfully landed and delivered its package in Austin, Texas.

Team Roadrunner consisted of the FAA-designated Nevada UAS Test Site (Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems), Volans-i UAS, Latitude UAS, AUV Flight Services, and the ground and mobile visual observer support from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Worldwide campuses.”

Props to all involved!

Last week Qualcomm (QTI) released their LTE Unmanned Aircraft Systems Trial Report, which presents “Results of the first comprehensive, systematic study of cellular system performance in networks serving low-altitude (120 meters above ground level and below) airborne UEs (drones) known at the time of publication.”

The big news here is that even though LTE antennas are aimed down for telephony, “Strengths are statistically stronger for UEs at altitude than for ground UEs because the free space propagation conditions at altitude more than makeup for antenna gain reductions.”

Meaning that based on some 1,000 test flights LTE works just fine.

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) – the $17.6 billion Indian IT powerhouse – has opened a Drones Research Lab in Cincinnati at their Seven Hills center, which already houses more than 1,000 employees.

sUAS News reports that “The TCS Drones Research Lab – featuring both indoor labs, showcase, warehouse, and outdoor terrain footprints – provides a rapid experimentation and co-innovation environment for customers to build solutions for specific industry problems in accelerated 30-60-90-day delivery cycles. FAA part 107 certified TCS pilots based at the Lab fly fully equipped drones to collect data for specific industry use cases. Advanced computer vision, machine learning and deep learning algorithms enable fully automated processing of the drone captured images to reveal precise insights.” That is another very big idea.

AP reports that Las Vegas based AviSight, a worldwide drone services company with deep roots in both manned and unmanned aviation, has been given a waiver to fly over the Las Vegas Strip. “Each flight will be limited to within a quarter mile of the approved location and below an altitude of 200 feet (61 meters), FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor said. “It is quite restrictive to ensure the company’s drones don’t pose hazards to any airplanes or air tour helicopters.”

Not sure how they will deal with flying over people since the article says that they are not allowed to…

Apparently there is still plenty of venture money for big ideas, Betsy Lillian reports that Orbital Insight, a geospatial analytics and software company based in Mountain View has closed a $50 million Series C round to further expand its satellite and drone imagery analysis.

It’s an amazing company – from the website “At Orbital Insight, our vision is to create the macroscope—a real-time view of the world at global, regional and hyperlocal scales via satellite imagery by leveraging computer vision and machine learning technologies.”

Last week TVTechnology ran a story by Jeff Rose, UAS Chief Pilot for the Sinclair Broadcast Group about their success flying a DJI Inspire 2 for news coverage. Jeff explained that “We are on track to have 45 stations equipped and flying this year and continue the count into the next. In each new market, we meet with local authorities to display the equipment and share safety protocols. Officials walk in worried about journalists with drones, and walk out with their fears alleviated.”

Which is a very smart strategy and the kind of thing I hope to get into with the panel on building public trust at the EDC Summit.

I didn’t think too much more about it until I came across a story by Tony Romm in Recode, Trump’s new rules will let Sinclair gobble up Tribune.Sinclair Broadcast Group will acquire Tribune Media Company for $3.9 billion in a deal that would combine two of the country’s largest owners of local TV stations —  the latest media asset of choice. Sinclair could add 42 stations in 33 markets, plus Tribune’s local rights to some pro basketball, hockey and baseball games, including the Cubs and Yankees.”

Even in this age of OTT programming and cable cutting, the sports franchises are still unbelievably valuable. Better yet, I have to believe that once the merger is complete there will soon be 78 TV stations flying drones.

Finally, Patrick Egan has announced the very welcome news that videos of the 2017 sUSB Expo presentations are being put up on YouTube.

Thank you for reading and for sharing. More than year’s worth of Dronin’ On back issues are available here.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter

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