Commercial UAV Expo: Drone Visionaries Answer 3 Critical Questions About the Drone Industry

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At Commercial UAV Expo ths morning, a panel of drone visionaries took the stage to answer critical questions about the drone industry today: including what’s happening with standards for UTM and Remote ID; how 5G will help the industry scale; and what new industries the largest manufacturer in the world is focused on this year.

Moderated by Frost and Sullivan’s Mike Blades, the panel offered a wide variety of perspectives: from drone services companies, represented by Measure’s Head of Product Jesse Stepler and DroneUp CEO Tom Walker: Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM), represented by Amit Ganjoo of Anra Technologies; connectivity and operational management with Verizon Skyward’s President Mariah Scott; and drone manufacturing, with DJI’s Director of Business Development Cynthia Huang.

What’s happening with standards for Remote ID and UTM?

ANRA Technologies Amit Ganjoo addressed the question of Remote ID and UTM standards.  ANRA has been a major player in UTM testing since the beginning of the NASA testing project.  Ganjoo is also involved with ASTM (an international standards organization, developing voluntary consensus technical standards) and is on the board of the Global UTM Association.

Remote ID (RID) is a hot topic these days, and Ganjoo says that the ASTM group focused on unmanned systems and unmanned traffic management has worked hard to develop standards, which he expects will be finalized in a few weeks.  Next up will be UTM: “We’ll have the first draft of standards on UTM shortly,” says Ganjoo.

Ganjoo says that the group worked with both networked and broadcast systems for Remote ID. “In some countries, where they have cellular coverage everywhere, they might only need a networked system.   But in places like the US, where there are large areas of the country that are without coverage, you need both,” Ganjoo says.

To develop global standards – and ensure interoperability of systems – the ANRA team has been working with other players to perform operational evaluations of their systems, both in the U.S. and overseas.  “The proof is in the pudding,” he says.  “You have to take things out in the field.”

Current State of 5G and How that Will Enable Drone Operations at Scale

Mariah Scott, President of Verizon Skyward, fielded the question of how the introduction of 5G networks will help the drone industry.  Better connections, better and faster data transfer, will enable many industries: but for the drone industry, Scott says that the impact will be significant – beyond just faster data streaming.

“We believe that integrating cellular connectivity directly with the drone, combined with airspace intelligence, will be a game changer,” says Scott.  “When you move from ‘one to one’ to ‘one to many’ it opens up a lot of new applications.”  The idea, she explains, is that when one pilot in an operational center can have control over several drones in the field, operating them safely and securely, enterprise scale will be able to take off.

While moving quickly, 5G is not expected to be widely available until 2020 or beyond for some areas.  Scott doesn’t see that as a limitation for the drone industry, however.  “It’s a phased approach – we’re doing a lot with our customers today,” she says.

The Biggest Industries and Trends Over the Next 24 Months

Cynthia Huang, Director of Business Development at DJI, answered the question about what new industries and uses were expected to be big for the industry over the next two years. As part of the largest drone manufacturer in the world, with at some estimates 70% of the U.S. market, Huang has a great perspective on industry trends: and she says that the energy sector stands out now.

“On the energy side we see a lot of opportunity for explosive growth,” says Huang.  “When you look at the way drones are being used currently in the energy space, you’re seeing inspections and maintenance…  Compared to the way that inspections used to be done, with a 3 or 4 person crew and a bucket truck, drones offer a lot of value.  A 1 or 2 man team with a drone who can inspect 10 poles in the time that they used to be able to do 2 or 3 poles is so much more efficient,” says Huang.  “The ROI is definitely there, it’s very clear.”

Most significantly, says Huang, is the shift from ‘proof of concept’ to scaled implementation.  “This is no longer a new way of doing inspections,” she says, “It’s become the standard way of doing inspections. “


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