The Energy Drone Coalition Summit issue of Dronin' On 06.24.17
The Intel Falcon 8+ is ready to work

Hi all –

This issue is dedicated to the inaugural Energy Drone Coalition Summit (EDC Summit) which took place in Houston this week. Props to Sean Guerre, LaDonna Pettit and the entire Stone Fort Group team on an impressive debut. And welcome to all the new readers.

But Washington sleeps for no one, so imagine my surprise on Wednesday during the UAS Emerging Technology for Energy panel to learn from Diana Cooper and MarkeHoot” Gibson that drones were going to the White House on Thursday as part of Technology Week.

Who knew? Certainly not me.

Apparently President Trump was inspired by his meeting Monday with the American Technology Council which included Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet and IBM because on Thursday he opened the “American Leadership in Emerging Technology” session saying that:

We’re on the verge of new technological revolutions that could improve, virtually, every aspect of our lives, create vast new wealth for American workers and families, and open up bold, new frontiers in science, medicine, and communication. 

I would love to…get your thoughts on ways government can help unleash the next generation of technological breakthroughs that will transform our lives and transform our country, and make us number one in this field.”

On hand with their Christmas wish lists were AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and General Electric, as well as Kespry, Airmap, Airspace, Measure UAS, Trumbull Unmanned, and PrecisionHawk.

As you might expect, welcome promises were made about getting out of the way of progress. The President did a photo op with a Kespry drone. But I think Greg McNeal of Airmap hit the future most squarely on the head. In Recode’s write-up he is quoted as saying:

“The one thing I’m really fixated on is a company like Tesla, which can deploy autonomous cars on roadways, next to bicycles and pedestrians … but you can’t put a few-pound drone above someone’s head,” said Gregory McNeal, the co-founder of Airmap, in an interview. He said he felt it’s “low-hanging fruit” in this administration to make drones “more like the [Department of Transportation] and
autonomous vehicles.”

You might recall I brought this up two weeks ago in 7 Forces Transforming the FAA and the UAV Industry. The kind of scary thing is that in two weeks we are up to 9 Forces with the addition of the Singer v Newton hearing challenging local authority to regulate the airspace, and this week the House companion to the Drone Federal Act. (I know this is starting to sound like Lord of the Rings.)

Betsy Lillian reports that “The Drone Innovation Act, H.R.2930, addresses the operation of drones flying below 200 feet in altitude and within the lateral boundaries of a state, local or tribal government’s jurisdiction.”

And that’s not even the news, which comes to us courtesy of Jonathan Rupprecht and a leaked or at least sneak preview of the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act. I will leave it to Jonathan to tell the tale but if passed AIRR:

  • Calls for the creation of the American Air Navigation Services Corporation to take over ATC functions. If this happens you should expect a two-year delay (minimum) on most other projects because the FAA is going to have to reinvent itself.
  • Continues development of UTM.
  • Creates a new permitting process in addition to Part 107. Hopefully this will include a demonstration of the ability to fly the aircraft – a big theme this week in Houston.
  • Allows for the registration of model aircraft.
  • Instructs the Comptroller General to begin a study about who is going to pay for all this.

For even more, the AMA did the work of comparing the House and Senate versions – which have to be reconciled before it goes to the President for
his signature.

Before I move on, a reminder that Dentons will be holding a webinar about AIRR on June 29. I don’t have a link but if you’re interested try checking here.

To top things off, the freshly minted DAC Task Force on Electronic Identification held their first meeting this week. Improbably there are 74 participants which gives new meaning to the idea of herding cats.

Now back to Houston and the EDC Summit which was a swell event. Sean Guerre and his Stone Fort team have a deep understanding of the energy business. They had the good sense to know what they didn’t know, and put together a small but well-rounded advisory board to fill in the blanks.

Just over 400 attendees were on hand, representing end-users and service providers. About 40 manufacturers and developers made for a modest but solid, targeted show floor. The sum of the parts was a highly focused exploration of the key issues facing the energy industry.

The EDC Summit made it clear to me that hashtags and gaudy projections are no longer going to move us forward. We have moved from “wow it flies”, to “gee whiz look what it can do“ and are now entering the real work of operations. This is one manager and one team at a time wrestling with a daunting range of problems, issues and decisions particular to the needs of their business.

From talking to people in other verticals, I know that what I saw and heard is representative of the state of adoption and implementation among all enterprise users. At least 40% of attendees are in early exploratory or R&D phases, while the rest have established pilot programs. Of course in the real world, the 40% is much larger since many are not yet ready to commit to attending an event. The Summit also provided a good snapshot of the challenges that service providers will face as they work to build their businesses.

Sean Pribyl of Blank Rome LLP had the task of opening the Summit with a keynote in which he reviewed Part 107. I would never have recommended it as an opener, but kudos because he did it brilliantly. I bring it up for a number
of reasons.

1) It is very important to understand that even though “we” spend our days thinking about drones, people with real jobs – like the ones responsible for enterprise drone programs – don’t.

2) Sean exposed some of the subtleties in Part 107 – I learned a lot.

3) Sean began his career as a Coast Guard officer. I could see him training his men, sweating the details of mission planning, worrying about equipment maintenance and keeping records.

The vision of him standing watch is a powerful metaphor for the concerns of this audience.

Under tremendous pricing pressure and plenty of regulation, the energy industry walks a fine line between the need to adopt new technologies to reduce costs and an unrelenting focus on safety.

As I wrote for InterDrone, taking a man off a ladder or out of a helicopter is a huge benefit. But more than most places, in energy there is also a focus on plant safety. Many are huge complexes. Some of them can go boom, which is a bad thing because it annoys regulators, shareholders and neighbors. It’s a career ender.

As Richard Murphy, the Senior Manager of Corporate Aviation Services for Valero put it “We do not want to be on the bleeding edge.”

Murphy shared the stage with Rodney Gaddy, VP Administrative Services and one of three speakers from Duke Energy. The two provided an interesting contrast since Valero has chosen to outsource their drone program, while Duke is only using their own employees.

The juxtaposition provided a variety of insights.

The heart of the argument is how to acquire the necessary internal expertise to effectively manage a program – especially one dependent on contractors.

The answer, provided by Harrison Wolf of Wolf UAS who followed Sean, is that you must have internal expertise. He went on to give a terrific presentation on safety risk management which teed up the concerns we were to hear throughout the two days. I recommend Harrison’s book which he developed for a UAS safety class he teaches at the University of Southern California.

The consensus is that the solution for many companies will be a ‘hybrid’ of internal expertise and as the industry matures, external resources.

One reason for this is the need for domain expertise. Many take the position that it makes no sense for them to spend their time teaching contractors what they need to know to perform their jobs. This by the way, extends beyond air operations to software and analysis.

The related concern is one that I have frequently heard expressed in other industries – contractors simply do not understand the risks and challenges of fast moving job sites. In part that is because it is difficult to loop them into the established jobsite communication protocols.

I was struck by how much vetting goes into the decision to put prospective contractors on an approved vendor list (MSA). This is particularly true when an Aviation Department is involved. A number of speakers spoke about the importance of understanding a prospective supplier’s safety culture. All of them wanted to review SOP’s, flight logs and see practical flying demonstrations before engaging a third party.

In a nutshell, this is a vertical that desperately needs and wants standards. If you haven’t read it, the most important article I have written in the past nine months is Why Standards Will Be Critical to UAV Adoption.

One thing I touched on and for which there was unanimous recognition at the Summit, is that Part 107 provides absolutely no assurance of competence or capability to pilot an aircraft. It is clearly no longer enough to tell a prospect that drones are good and when asked for an operations manual to send the DJI manual. (Both true stories from the Summit.)

Predictably, someone asked the chicken and the egg question, “Well you want experience, but Part 107 is only 10 months old. So, what are you looking for?”

The answer is that there is a very strong preference for people with military aviation experience. Military aviators are perceived to be able to define and train repeatable processes, and to have demonstrated that they have the discipline to follow a process day in, day out.

Other seemingly hot topics that are just coming up on the radar.

Privacy seems is of limited interest since to date many operations are being carried out over private property which is surrounded by “no trespassing” signs and barbed wire.

The panel I moderated on Public Acceptance included Brian Kennedy at Hogan Lovells who among many actionable suggestions referred the audience to the NTIA Voluntary Standards as a point of departure. Christine Asaro from San Diego Gas & Electric shared their experiences and policies for operating in public areas. Davis Hackenberg from NASA explained that Public Acceptance is one of four pillars that NASA references as they develop UAS integration plans.

Security is another area that is just coming to the fore. Travis Moran from Navigant chaired a panel including, Bruce Martin from Duke Energy and Carl Herron from NERC, both of whose expertise is physical security. These are the folks who are responsible for adding drones to their security plans and who will be customers for domestic CUAS systems.

They are representative of the people who are waiting to find out how 2209, which allows for designation of critical infrastructure, will be implemented.

Plenty of counter UAS folks on hand – I had the chance to spend some time with Bobby Long from Dedrone and Brady Cass from Gryphon Sensors. Two of a number of very different approaches – one high-tech, one grown out of demonstrated defense capabilities.

I cannot overstate the shift in focus and awareness from privacy to security. It is a trend we will be seeing much more of. I had a chance to catch up with Hoot afterwards and he told me in no uncertain terms that flight over people and BVLOS are both going to be affected by security concerns. Jeff Breunig from MITRE made it clear that various certifications were already in the works to address these issues.

Data security is another topic that has yet to reach top of mind. I moderated a panel with Brian Kennedy from Hogan Lovells, David Kovar from Kovar LLC and Steven Fargo from DataWing. Unfortunately, James Poss was unable to join since he is on the electronic identification task force – right guy for the job. David’s advice is simple and valuable “Drone data needs to be treated the same way as all of other IT assets.”

Indeed, a recurring theme is the need to leverage the internal standards and processes that are already in place to ensure that the new drone program is in alignment with company policies.

One unexpected piece of good news – which leaves me to eat some crow from my AUVSI coverage. Intel was there with a booth and their just released Falcon 8+ in safety yellow. I spoke with Kristina Kendrick from the New Technology Group who told me that things were going full tilt with Aero as well. Here’s the website.

Ed McCaffery from Topcon, the exclusive Falcon 8+ distributor, says they are shipping now. Depending of course, but nicely equipped they are $25-35K.

Over breakfast I met Rob Albright, Product Engineering Manager for HUVR who oversees teams who are out flying Falcon 8+ engineering prototypes for wind farm inspections. He reports that the Falcon’s are extremely stable in the gusty conditions.

ICI HALO in Ferrari red

ICI won my very unofficial award for prettiest bird, the Halo, a Ferrari red heavily streamlined octocopter which carries their sensor packages and uses a
DJI controller.

Meanwhile an ocean away, the Paris Airshow is in full swing. Take a look at the video of the display by the Lockheed Martin F-35A. In the words of test pilot Billy Flynn the demonstration was designed to “Crush years of misinformation”. Aviation Week summed it up writing that “The Paris display may not silence the critics, but it certainly changed the conversation.” Props to all involved.

Also working hard to change the conversation is Team New Zealand seeking revenge over Oracle in the America’s Cup. One of their secret weapons – an American drone pilot. His biggest problem? Finding a drone that can go to weather (upwind) as fast as their boat, Black Magic. A terrific story and some amazing footage in the New York Times.

Thanks for reading and for sharing. All of the back issues of Dronin’ On are here.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter




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