The '2018 EDC Summit' issue of Dronin' On 06.23.18
Dawn breaking. View to the northeast.

Hi all –

Welcome to new subscribers from AUVSI – I lost your cards and found them. And to new subscribers from the 2018 EDC Summit. Before we get to all the goings on in Houston, a quick shout out to my team led by ace designer Deborah Ross who designed my first logo 40 years ago, and web dev extraordinaire, Bert Mahoney. We hope you like the new look because you’re going to be seeing a lot of it =)


Some of you might have noticed that RTCA recently lost their contract to manage the Next Gen Advisory Committee and the DAC (if you didn’t know, on the org chart UAS is part of NextGen). Right now this doesn’t appear to be a giant deal (unless you worked at RTCA) though there is a loss of resources and continuity. The FAA has been charged with standing up a comparable organization.

That was last week. What we don’t know this week is if the DAC has lost it’s leader. Brian Krzanich’s resignation from Intel was announced Thursday. Has the drone world has lost an influential friend and visionary? As for the future of the DAC – Bill Carey with Aviation Week tells me that there is a meeting scheduled for late July.

Writing in DroneLife, Miriam McNabb reports that the FAA dodged a bullet, Drone Privacy: EPIC v. FAA Tossed by D.C. Circuit Court. “The three-judge panel said in a unanimous decision that EPIC failed to show how its members or the organization itself would be injured by the rules…” Still on the docket is EPIC’s suit against DOT regarding the 2015 Registration ARC. And EPIC’s 2018 suit against the DAC:

To…enforce the transparency obligations of the Drone Advisory Committee. Despite the imminent threat that drones pose to the privacy rights of millions of Americans, the few DAC records that are public reveal a near-total failure to consider the privacy impact of drones and drone surveillance. 

As for Reauthorization, what’s the hurry? There is still ~100 days left before the FAA runs out of money.

And now, on to the show.


The Energy Drone Coalition has some 12,000 members representing every part of the energy industry around the world. The second annual Summit was thoughtfully executed, and the Expo was double the size of the 2017 event with some 80 exhibitors.

There is no question that the energy sector – which includes everything from exploration to pipelines and tankers, generation (coal, nuclear, gas and hydro) and transmission (tens of thousands of substations and unknown miles of high voltage lines), along with solar and wind has enthusiastically embraced UAS.

Beyond taking humans out of harm’s way, infrastructure inspection is an enormous, multi-billion dollar annual expense. Anything that can enable better decision making is of
strategic interest.

This is a very serious crowd that is now wrestling with integrating UAS programs into the fabric of their company. They are working hard to extract the right information from the prodigious amount of data that their UAS missions are already generating.

As such, IMO the Summit offers broad insights into the state of the industry.


The show opened Tuesday afternoon with two Workshops, one on Designing, Launching & Scaling Energy/Engineering UAV Programs and the one I attended, The Industrial C-UAS & Security Forum.

As you would expect this covered a lot of ground.

Chip Johnson, a retired LE made an interesting point saying that “The majority of the [AUVSI] $82B forecast is based on the value of the data.” He went on to add that drone data was extremely vulnerable in all phases from collection to dissemination, to a variety of tactics including sniffing, spoofing, snooping and outright sabotage.

I found the most interesting piece of advice to be “Be sure that you only collect and store the data that you have use for.” The wisdom of this became clear yesterday with this headline: Defending Privacy, Supreme Court Says Warrants Generally Are Necessary to Collect Cell Phone Data.

“We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier’s database of physical location information,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority.

 “We hold only that a warrant is required in the rare case where the suspect has a legitimate privacy interest in records held by a third party,” the chief justice wrote.

Clearly, it is good news for you and I. The point is that complying with warrants for drone data will become increasingly expensive for companies fielding large drone fleets – thus “keep only what you need.” Which has the added benefit of minimizing exposure to other kinds of privacy challenges.

Frost & Sullivan Research Director Mike Blades offered up a comprehensive overview of available CUAS technology. His conclusion is that it is going to take a multi-layered system combining a number of technologies to provide adequate protection. The chess match of ‘counter the counter’ is just starting.

Veteran aviation attorney Mark Dombroff spent some time talking the statutory protection offered by the SAFETY Act, the closest thing to a game changer there is. The Act was passed after 9/11 to minimize liability for “Sellers” or “Providers” of “Qualified Anti-Terrorism Technology (QATT).

Mark describes the Act as “An important tool for companies to mitigate tort liability.” Apparently, the DHS is applying it more broadly and Mark has been successful in securing the protection for both hardware and service providers. Still, as moderator Travis Moran pointed out, it would be nice if the language was broader.

Matt Barger from the DHS Office of Infrastructure Protection categorized the UAS threat into four broad buckets:

  • Surveillance,
  • Smuggling,
  • Disruption and
  • Weaponization

Matt spent a good deal of time describing the wide range of programs, resources and initiatives that DHS has in place and stressing the opportunities for private sector input and collaboration. There is an awful lot that businesses need to figure out starting with basic concepts like how companies train their employees to respond to and report a
drone incursion.

Of particular note is a new rule, NERC CIP 014 Requirements – CIP standing for Critical Infrastructure Protection – developed by NERC (North American Electric Reliability Corporation). When it is enacted later this year, NERC members (electric utilities) will be required to disclose any cyber vulnerabilities in their supply chain. Furthermore, utilities will be held accountable for their vendors – something that I am certain will result in contracts that go well beyond naming the client as an additional insured.

To be very clear, CIP is not a DHS standard, nor does any government entity have anything to do with enforcement. Matt told us that DHS works with 16 verticals, the four most important being energy, transportation, telecommunication and water.  That’s a lot of ground to cover…

In this type of scenario, Dombroff’s suggestion that service providers get SAFETY Act coverage will be a distinct competitive advantage.


Dyan Gibbens, Trumbull Unmanned and the STEM students

I want to start by giving a shout out to Dyan Gibbens, Trumbull Unmanned and Dave Truch and the BP team for taking advantage of the show to create a STEM event for local students. Thank you for thinking about the future!

If there is a universal theme that ran through the presentations, it was Crawl. Walk. Run. With most programs still firmly in the Crawl phase.

Let’s be clear – the topic of the week is that nobody is anywhere near scale.

Duke Energy UAS Manager Jacob Velky kept telling the panel moderator DataWing COO Landon Phillips,  “The journey is far from over,” adding that the technology is moving so fast that “We are refreshing our strategy on a 12-month basis.”

Indeed, that was the overwhelming impression. The companies that got off to a fast start last year have run head-on into all of the complexities associated with reinventing the wheel – which is to say conducting ongoing flight operations – along with the traditional challenges that face every service organization, meeting the needs of their clients.

Every single presentation had a chart or diagram explaining the process that organization was following to achieve their objectives, or a vendor explaining how they could help their clients do so. With that as a frame, let’s take a look at the themes that reflect what I saw and heard.


I doubt that he did it to provide me with a juicy soundbite, but Intel VP Anil Nanduri summed it all up when he said: “Flying is hard.” (He went on to tout the very real benefits of automation which will make more sense in a minute.)

Retired Navy pilot, HAZON CEO David Culler believes that UAS has to be treated like manned operations. He offered a subtle insight saying that “I flew this month, so I am current. But I am not proficient.”

CenterPoint Energy Service Consultant Supervisor Pierce Prater hit the nail on the
head with:

“There is nothing out there that says that this person is qualified to fly near a high voltage line.”

Jacob Velky, whose team is embedded in the Duke Energy Aviation Group noted that “Any incident is a big deal.”

Unmanned Safety Institute VP Michael Wilson began by addressing the challenges of developing standards for an industry that hasn’t been around all that long. He went on to say “You can’t have two safety cultures, one for manned and another for unmanned aviation, in one organization. There has to be on a standard that is supported top down and bottom up.”

Here’s a gotcha – in Michael’s view many operators need to be “Ready to scale to the equivalent of Part 135.” For those of you who don’t know (including me) FAR Part 135, is titled “Operating Requirements: Commuter and On Demand Operations and Rules Governing Persons On Board Such Aircraft.”

It’s a big step up. There is no point in getting wound around the axle – as Mark Dombroff said “Part 107 is not a low bar. There is no bar.” With more sophisticated expanded operations will come much higher standards, licensing requirements as well as aircraft and C2 certifications.

In fact, based on what Matt Dunlevy shared on our panel, for BVLOS in many ways that day is already here. For instance, the pilots he puts up for waivers are multi-engine rated. And each waiver is pilot, aircraft and CONOPS specific.


Call it a sea, an ocean or a torrent. Heck, call it a gusher in memoriam. Data was a significant piece of the conference programming.

Intel VP Anil Nanduri prefaced his remarks asking “How are we all going to navigate this flood of data. How will we store, manage and analyze it?”

Accenture Digital Managing Director for Autonomous Systems Antoine Martin put it succinctly saying “Forget about the drone. This is all about business processes and outcomes. The consistency of results is the key.”

Jacob Velky says that they have learned to start by bringing new stakeholders to the table to determine “What data the internal customer is getting from their current processes that they use to make decisions.”

BP Technology Director for Digital Innovation Dave Truch takes it a giant step further. “Algorithms for analyzing data are little black holes that consume data. The more we feed them, the greater degree of confidence we can have in what they tell us.” Pointing to a slide showing the side of a drilling platform that is over 1 million square feet he adds, “The problem is that I can no longer collect enough data through human means. So we use robots to position sensors to collect the data we need for analysis.”

And to train the robots? “SME’s [subject matter experts] must be involved in the training.

That’s one reason that explains Mike Blades comment that “Companies are more willing to take the risk to bring operations in-house.”

While Truch sees further than most, many people have figure out that drone pilots are just that – pilots, not subject matter experts.

Not surprisingly this has led to some very practical tactics.

John McClain, the Chief Pilot at one Shell facility says that “I have learned to bring the requestor with me to look over my shoulder to make sure that I get what they want. It’s way easier than going out a second time.”

Cyberhawk VP, Technology Solutions Patrick Saracco, says that they always go out with a two-man crew. “A competent pilot to collect the data, and an inspector to interpret it.”

Precision Hawk VP Pat Lohman added that there needs to be “A partnership between buyer and seller. We need to understand how information flows on their side so that we can ensure that the information we present perfectly matches theirs.

The fundamental problem that each team must solve for themselves is: do we have an end to end process for ensuring that the data we collect is not just accurate but repeatable? Because it turns out that the promise of AI, the ability to predict budget-busting items like which pipe needs maintenance now and which can be deferred, depends a great deal, perhaps entirely on repeatable processes.

One can begin to appreciate the real world complexities when John McClain says that weather permitting, they fly every day. And Drone Deploy’s James Pipes pointed out that people want to fly all the time – and that they are starting to see fleets of 50-100 drones.

That’s one reason that ANRA Technologies CEO Amit Ganjoo built his OSS 3 app to “Help clients to ensure consistency by allowing them to build checklists for the specifics of each mission. It is one way to achieve repeatability across multiple providers.


I am new to this brave new world, as I assume many of you are. So if you take one thing away from this issue it is that the magic of AI depends on consistency. Put another way, fly around all you want but you can’t escape the GIGO of our youth.

Ardenna Director of Technology Jennifer Player explains that to use AI “Consistent and repeatable processes [flight operations] is the key to scalable. You have to constrain the problem [limit the variables] to bring consistency to data collection. It’s an end to end solution – what goes in is what goes out. And it’s not show-stopping if it’s not fully automatic.”

Fellow panelist Optelo CEO David Tran adds, “We don’t care about the data. We want the answers from the data.” Which seems an apt parallel to the old story that nobody wants to buy a drill, they want to buy the hole that the drill makes.

Says Jennifer, “We want to turn people from finders to fixers.”

When you think about it in this light, you quickly understand the benefits of automation. But how do you pay for it all? How do you make the business case?


It turns out that a few people have had a big AHA. It’s as obvious as it is difficult to implement.

For a company like BP, the answer is to share the dataset across the organization. I talked with Dave after his presentation and it comes down to the difference between a siloed approach and a holistic approach. Dave used the example of a single pipe that ran 200′ from the drilling platform to the ocean floor. When the pipe enters the water, it changes organizations. And budgets. Yet it is still the same pipe.

It’s not a data problem – it’s an organizational problem. It is yet another unintended consequence of what Dave calls the unplanned digitization of the world.

Patrick Saracco says much the same thing. “ROI is achieved by using one platform for multiple departments and applications.” He characterizes their work as providing a “Single source of truth.

He gives the example of 200 people on four continents using the same data set to manage a complex project. But there are many other metrics that came up to explain the realized or expected benefits of these programs.

For Schlumberger Managing Director Sudhir Pai, whose focus is on the integrity of their underwater assets, they expect to be able to cut costs 50-60%.

Saracco points to enabling his client to inspect 19 tanks aboard ship using two men in 21 days, instead of the traditional method requiring 30 men for 70 days. Beyond the obvious crew cost savings (42 man days versus 2,100), the risk of damage is minimized and the ship is returned to service weeks earlier.

Mike Blades said that Measure told him that they were able to eliminate 7,500 ‘hazardous’ work hours by inspecting a solar facility by drone.

And in perhaps my favorite story, Barrett Walker, Manager sUAS Services, Cheniere Energy explained how in the process of getting the necessary approvals to build a new LNG terminal, they flew a drone up the entire 21 mile length of the Sabine Pass River at tanker bridge height to demonstrate to the USCG that the existing ATONS (aids to navigation like buoys and other markets) was adequate, saving the company the cost of adding more units and the delay associated with the necessary approvals.


I did not talk about my panel on Making the Safety Case, because while it was a great panel, it doesn’t really fit this narrative. But I want to thank the panelists, Matt Fannelli from Skyward who spoke about LAANC, Matt Dunlevy from SkySkope who shared his experience with BVLOS and Brady Cass from SRC Gryphon Sensors who described their work on the BNSF Pathfinder project and the Griffiss UAS Test Site; as well as a little about their new relationship with Xcel Energy. Unfortunately, Eileen Lockhart who oversees the UAS program at Xcel was unable to attend. They’ll all be back on these pages.

That’s it from EDC Summit in Houston.

Thanks for reading and for sharing. Back issues of Dronin’ On are here.


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewrite

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