The Impending Maturity issue of Dronin' On 08.26.17
2017 Total Solar Eclipse – ISS Transit Photo Credit:NASA/Joel Kowsky

Hi all –

As the end of summer nears, our thoughts are with the good folks in Texas and NOLA. Amazing to think that Hurricane Harvey will still be creating problems when Michael Huerta opens InterDrone September 6th. (Talk about draining the state…. Let’s hope not.)

I came across what can best be described as an insider piece, Report on DOT Significant Rulemaking. The document provides some insight into just how long it can take to get a rule from Congress to the books. There are 104 rules in all, four from the FAA are of particular interest. (For the full text, download the Word doc.)

#10 Pilots Records Database This was ordered up in 2010 and apparently is stuck in the system. Easy enough to imagine that Part 107 holders will be added in, if and when it’s finally implemented.

#18 Registration and Marking Requirements for Small Unmanned Aircraft This appears to be the agency’s response to the Taylor decision. It is scheduled to go to OMB (OIRA) in November 2017 so they are moving very fast.

This rulemaking would provide an alternative, streamlined and simple, web-based aircraft registration process for the registration of small unmanned aircraft, including small unmanned aircraft operated as model aircraft, to facilitate compliance with the statutory requirement that all aircraft register prior
to operation.”

#19 Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Over People This will be the second try after the first NPRM died in January 2017. Look for a comment period to begin in March 2018.

This rulemaking would address the performance-based standards and means-of-compliance for operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) over people not directly participating in the operation.

I assume that there will have to be a comprehensive registration system in place before this can go forward.  And it’s very hard to see how the security concerns that tanked the first version will be resolved by then… All eyes are on the remote identification task force for that. (See the article about U-Cloud below to learn how the Chinese are working the problem.)

#22 Unmanned Aircraft Systems Expanded Operations This appears to be a placeholder. The rulemaking project was initiated in December 2016 but no dates are given.

This rulemaking would enable expanded operations of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) in the national airspace system (NAS). As a result, it would increase the utility of sUAS for operations under 14 CFR part 107, and would advance technology by encouraging innovation in this rapidly developing segment of the aviation industry.

This morning we are 35 days out from the FAA shutting down – even though aircraft can fly over walls and you know oceans and stuff…

Meanwhile, in China, the headline on sonu.com reads U-Cloud Officially Launched, UAV Supervision Took a Big Step. U-Cloud was approved by the Civil Aviation Authority for a two-year trial period in March 2016. Apparently, it is now up and running. The mechanics are promising:

U-Cloud is similar to SIM card tracking management, all UAVs need to install a SIM cardor similar device. In this way, each installed sim card UAV, flight path, height, speed, location, heading, etc. will be real-time into the cloud database…” Big Brother is definitely in on this.

The drone-induced shutdowns at Chengdu Airport last April are not unique to China. Here is a data visualization showing the impact on traffic coming into Gatwick when controllers shut the runways down after an inbound airliner reported a drone on final approach. “The knock-on effect extended into the evening with returning aircraft delayed at departure airports.”

A potential landmark case in Michigan. WNEM.com reported that:

A drone pilot could face charges after authorities say the unmanned aircraft kept a Flight Care helicopter from landing to transport a victim to the hospital in a deadly crash. The helicopter had to abort its landing and pass around the scene while police found the pilot of the drone. 

BBC Future has an excellent sign of the times story, How Police Catch Drone-Flying Criminals which looks at the increasing use of drones for a wide – and imaginative – range of illegal activities.

“…How can a criminal pilot be identified when, say, only a drone is found at a crime scene? Or when only fragments from wreckage are found? Or when only a controller or phone is found, or when police have a likely pilot suspect but no drone?

This is where the drone detectives come in.”

Cue the Dragnet theme music and bring on David Kovar the mind behind the URSA UAV Forensics Suite who notes that “The secret isn’t in the bulky device itself. It’s the fact that it’s part of a complex digital ecosystem.” Good read.

Chilling story by David Hambling for Popular Mechanics, When a Hobby Drone Becomes a Military Sniper. The focus is on the TIKAD from Duke Robotics in Israel who have apparently come up with “a unique suppression firing and stabilization solution” making it easier than ever to mount a firearm to a drone. Got to love their motto “No boots on the ground.” Oorah.

With tradeshow season upon us, it’s nice to see that (some) people are moving past the dance of the sugar plum fairies and are taking a sober look at the future of the industry. I came across a slew of articles this week which together present a shared vision of impending maturity.

Ian Smith hosted Cisco Strategist Biren Gandhi on his CommercialDrones.FM podcast. Biren spearheads strategy for highly disruptive technologies (fun!) and is one of the smarter people looking at the space. It’s a fascinating interview.

As an aside, if you are wondering how we are going to process all our data, check out his comments on fog computing at 16:00 and his blog post here. Better yet, go hear him at DroneWorld Expo in October.

Biren talks a lot about three pillars that Cisco uses to assess new opportunities. (Cisco is crazy about pillar models.)

  • Monetization
  • Improved performance
  • Enhanced customer experience

If you apply these to the drone industry you can see where we are, and where we need to go.

Chris Anderson of 3DR takes it head-on in an interview with Jeremiah Karpowicz in CUAV News, How Drones Will Become Boring. Here’s how the idea plays back:

You don’t get to a billion dollars by being a shiny toy or a bleeding edge technology. You get to a billion dollars by being an essential tool. The way you get to being an essential tool is that you go beyond the early adopters into something that just makes sense. You use it because it makes your job easier, or it saves money, or because it’s so simple to use.

What closes the deal is when you speak their language, not ours.

Another take comes from an interview on the InterDrone Newswire with Jon Tull, the CEO of Dronifi whose value proposition is expressed as “You fly, we do the rest.” I think his analysis is spot on.

Frankly, I think all the drone hype has skewed our expectations.

There has been a lot of VC investment in this space, driving companies to acquire users as fast as possible, often at a financial loss. VC investment does not always breed success and a lot of these customers produce minimal revenues… As a result, many companies have generated product interest and users, but insufficient revenue-based market traction, compared to their operational spending.

Beyond the fact that it is simply early days, a lack of sales skills and domain expertise has made it difficult for many companies to get in the game.

The real commercial market, those willing to pay regularly for aerial services and tools is still very small, relative to the market opportunity.

As a whole, flight service providers struggle to communicate the value of flight services in the sales presentation process. Customers have a lot of challenging questions they must address. On top of that, most flight service providers are ineffective sales people.  They don’t have the industry or technical knowledge to be effective on their own. 

Still another perspective comes in a new blog post by Don Weigel, VP, Professional Services at Airware, The Eight Stages of Drone Technology-Driven Transformation. His premise is that:

There have been at least eight distinct levels of evolution within commercial drone technology, beginning with simply getting drones into the air reliably, and culminating with complete industry and application-specific solutions that enable organization-wide benefit. The early stages of this continuum were achieved years ago. The advanced stages are on the cutting edge, and are in the process of being developed and tested today.

Go back to Biren’s idea of enhancing the customer experience. Jon Tull has
found that:

“…Aerial imagery, even analyzed imagery, is not enough for many customers. Businesses need a wide variety of external data and workflow integration to efficiently make use of their new aerial data.” 

Weigel sets his own high bar as Stage Eight, Systems Integration:

Integration of drone data with traditional business systems and enterprise-wide reporting systems enables even deeper insights by allowing aerial analytics to span departments, and business functions to create entirely new workflows.

I can’t remember ever finding four discussions at this level. These three things…

  • The ability to monetize, which requires profitability,
  • The ability to improve productivity through integration of ever more complex data sets
  • And the ability to improve the customer experience throughout the value chain

…Will be what separates the pack as the industry gets ever closer to Crossing
the Chasm.

A couple of powerful videos.

The first is part of a story in Business Insider on the Tesla Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, New Drone Footage Shows Just How Huge Tesla’s Gigafactory Really Is. The factory will have the largest footprint of any building in the world – it brings new meaning to the idea of economy of scale.

Needless to say, it’s really, really big. But what makes this worth watching is the off-camera video dialog with Elon Musk and the filmmaker. Musk says that 100 factories like this could produce enough batteries to store enough solar energy to supply the entire world – completely eliminating the need for transmission lines and all the trappings.

02:21 “Tesla can’t build 100 gigafactories… But if companies that are much bigger than Tesla do the same thing…Then collectively we can accelerate the transition to sustainable energy…We can get there really quickly.”

Absolutely mind-blowing. I might not live to see it, but your children? Yeah, they should have that.

Thanks to local reader Marc H for this Eye Candy Tag Award winner from Amberjack, Epic Drone Footage of Alaska’s Sockeye Salmon, For Science. Filmmaker Jason Ching is a professional photographer and environmental researcher. Here is the back story:

Last summer my UAS came everywhere with me in Alaska since we started using it for a research based pilot study, testing to see if we could use it to count salmon on spawning grounds. This was great for me because it allowed me to gather about 12 hours of aerial sockeye salmon footage which I eventually turned into the video “Above Iliamna.”

Iliamna (population 109) is west of Homer. This is what abundance looks like. And why we need stewardship. Stunning.

Hard to remember that we had a totality this week. So to end with more eye candy, DigitalCircuit.com’s #TheBuzz: Drones Capture Eclipse Spectacle. Love the image of the Space Station flying across the eclipse – we are all in this together.

Thanks for reading and for sharing. You can find all of the back issues of Dronin’ On here.

best,
ck

Christopher Korody
DroneBusiness.center
chris@dronebusiness.center
follow me @dronewriter