CC Blog Editor's Letter Insights

High Stakes Future for Commercial Drones

Written by Jeff Child

I’ve spoken before in this column about the commercial drone market, and how it differs greatly from both the military drone and consumer drone market segments. While the military and consumer drone realms have pretty well-established design requirements, many of the embedded electronics design decisions for commercial drones haven’t been nailed down. Drones in this segment are performing all sorts of missions for construction, agriculture, security, delivery, media and many more. And commercial drones have to fly higher and longer than consumer drones. Meanwhile, a diverse industry of drone software and services has sprung up around the commercial drone space. Reliability is a major concern in commercial drones, and those service firms are very much aware that, if a drone stops working, so does their service.

At this years InterDrone show in September, Tom Walker, founder and CEO of DroneUp, was among the keynote speakers and he provided an interesting perspective on the drone industry from a service provider point of view. DroneUp is a provider of end-to-end aerial data collection services for large, autonomous drone missions. The company delivers on-demand drone services to commercial, government and public safety organizations through its patent-pending verification platform, Mission Match.

Walker’s InterDrone keynote offered a fresh perspective on the huge potential and high stakes of today’s commercial drone market. A full transcript of his speech is posted on dronelife.com, but I’ll share some of the highlights here. Walker started off stressing just how young and unique the drone and drone services industries are. “We started businesses not knowing what it was we would be selling to customers who didn’t know what they were buying, in an industry that nobody has figured out how to regulate,” said Walker. “You see, we aren’t just start-up businesses and organizations in a young industry. We are a start-up industry.”

Walker says he views this industry as all part of a team. This team is made up of small one- or two-person drone shops trying to build revenues, drone services providers managing global pilot fleets, brave early-adopters (users) fighting to integrate drone services into your organization, members of academia racing to design curricula to ensure we have a sustainable workforce and government bodies trying to regulate drone operations.

In contrast to other areas of embedded system design, drones have to factor in broader issues like the many safety and regulatory issues surrounding them. Drones have to operate within the same air space as manned aircraft. And the drone industry is relatively new with a regulatory landscape that’s still evolving and with many safety issues still to be resolved.

From his perspective, Walker says he sees an industry hungry to evolve and get it right. “I am involved with dozens of industry boards, alliances, committees and organizations, all of which are in one way or another committed to promoting the commercial drone industry,” he said, “So far this year, I have received more than 7,000 emails covering every imaginable topic and program: BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight), Large UAS (unmanned aerial systems), UPP (UAS Pilot Program), IPP (UAS Integration Pilot Program), and, as always, membership dues. The fonts and words have minor differences but the message is consistent: Help us influence policy to facilitate adoption of drone technology. Help us shape a regulatory environment that will pave the way for industry emergence and growth. The implication is subtle but clear. Only through continued efforts to guide policies and regulations will our industry ever really get off the ground.”

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In his keynote, Walker also stressed that technology innovation is playing a key role in the growth and sustainability of the commercial drone industry. “The best way to ensure our industry’s stability is to remain steadfastly focused on operating responsibly while providing tangible value,” said Walker, “BVLOS, asymmetric data protocoling, AI-enabled dispatch and the many other technologies on the roadmap will extend our capabilities and contribute to our industry’s growth and sustainability

PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE• NOVEMBER 2019 #352- Get a PDF of the issue


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Jeff Child has more than 28 years of experience in the technology magazine business—including editing and writing technical content, and engaging in all aspects of magazine leadership and production. He joined the Circuit Cellar after serving as Editor-in-Chief of COTS Journal for over 10 years. Over his career Jeff held senior editorial positions at several of leading electronic engineering publications, including EE Times and Electronic Design and RTC Magazine. Before entering the world of technology journalism, Jeff worked as a design engineer in the data acquisition market.