Posts tagged "Droneii"

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The changes and developments we saw throughout the drone industry in 2017 were incredible and deserve a proper examination. For the most part, the hype that drove so much misunderstanding and frustration in this space is gone,and that’s a good thing. While the kind of hype we’ve seen associated with UAVs can create needed attention, it can also lead to irrational behavior and impossible expectations. Now that we can get a better sense of when drones will be able to reach the “plateau of productivity” from the Gartner Hype Cycle, we can finally talk about the organizations and uses of this technology that will truly drive and define the drone industry.

How does our Drone Ecosystem Map help define what these developments look like in 2018 and beyond though? First, it provides a great overview of the most active and relevant players in the drone industry in their category and sub-category. We limited the Map to 1,000 players so you can focus on the companies and people that are set to have the biggest impact on the drone market. The Map is not totally comprehensive, and it’s not supposed to be. The focus is on the diversity and reach of this drone ecosystem.

The second way it can help is directly related to the first, since the Map can help you uncover niches and players you might not otherwise come across in this vivid market. Since we’re not trying to provide you with an all-encompassing look at the drone industry as a whole, you can use the Map to find technology and organizations that can make for ideal partners. We’ve heard from countless people who got in touch to say they used the previous version of this Map to locate strategic partners. This is a resource that has led to a great deal of investment for people on every side of the drone industry. Transparency can and does drive decisions in this space, and that’s why we want to share our knowledge with anyone who is or will be making a decision about drone technology.

If we look at the drone industry as a whole in 2017, we can see a clear movement towards investment in software. Many companies realized that it’s not the drones themselves that provide value for users, but instead it’s the data they’re gathering. This is part of the reason we’ve seen such a dramatic increase in strategic partnerships. Stand-alone drone hardware is not what commercial customers are looking for when considering drone technology. Many of the players in the drone industry realized that creating a complete solution was the best approach, and that desire drove many of these strategic partnerships.

If you compare the 2016 and 2018 Maps, you can see some interesting trends that have and continue to permeate the drone industry. 10% of the companies listed (711 total entries) in the 2016 map are gone. 360 new entries were added, which is indicative of the strong movement that we’re seeing in almost every sector. It’s impossible to stay on top of all these movements though, as major changes like GoPro moving away from the drone business took place in the first couple weeks of 2018. We’ll see more headlines like these throughout the year, as this market continues to be defined before our eyes. Now let’s take a closer look at the most important developments in the drone industry:

Platform Manufacturers:

  • A great deal of consolidation is happening, and that’s something you can see with the mergers, acquisitions, drop-outs and focus changes. 3DR, PrecisionHawk, and Agribotix have moved away from hardware and are now mostly or wholly focused on software. Much of this has been triggered by the market superiority of DJI. 3DR officially noted that competitive pricing was a key reason for their $100m failure in hardware.
  • There’s a trend toward strong specialization in specific industries and with custom configurations. Agriculture, delivery systems, safety & security are some of the bigger industries that are seeing this development of specialization. That’s being augmented by specialized configurations, which have also created new niches and provided unique selling points. These configurations include fixed-wing, VTOL fixed-wing and lighter-than-air.
  • The AAT’s (Autonomous Air Taxis – also called flying-cars or e-VTOLs) sector has come on in a big way, and there’s a lot of funding in this space. Big companies seem to grab the best pieces before it’s too late, which is something you can see with developments like Terrafugia being acquired by Volvo-owner Geely, and Aurora Flight Sciences being acquired by Boeing. We’re also seeing some pivoting happening in this sector, as companies like Ehang have changed their strategy to move away from recreational drones to AAT’s.
  • In the consumer/recreational market, drone racing events and selfie drones continue to define the space. Many have had to fight to stay relevant here, as Parrot’s struggles in the space directly led to the transition of Bebop for commercial purposes, Lily’s failure allowed the Mota Group to acquire the product and DreamQii had to issue refunds on account of their PlexiDrone.

Software:

  • Powerful pieces of inspection software have been developed which utilize pattern recognition for asset management. The industrial needs to integrate AI & Deep Learning algorithms will allow these programs to automate inspection processes even more, and in turn, provide more value.
  • Many strategic software partnerships have been formed to provide end-to-end solutions because many organizations have recognized that providing one piece of the puzzle is not enough.
  • API’s and approaches that allow drone data to be integrated into existing processes quickly become a requirement. Opening channels (API) and tools that integrate drones into established processes came on in a big way in 2017, and that development will become even more distinct in 2018.
  • Aerial Data Providers such as Airbus Aerial and Intel Insights have taken the concept of aerial acquired data to a new level. Providing a virtual data platform for satellite, plane and drone data unshackles them from drone operation and the corresponding risk.
  • The UTM has unlocked many national and international partnerships, and we’ve started to see the results of these developments. Skyward and Airmap have become the first organization to be able to provide LAANC accreditation.

Service:

  • There’s a lot of talk about drone logistics services, but we’ve finally seen an impact that has gone beyond marketing. Matternet and Zipline are just two of the companies that are frequently flying medical deliveries in Europe and Africa. Drone-based warehousing solutions are also on the rise.
  • Drone show providers have showcased an entirely new application for the technology. Intel’s’ halftime-show and many other drone swarms have ushered in a new era of outdoor and indoor entertainment.
  • System integrations that are being provided and created have taken on critical importance. More tailor-made solutions are required by various industries, and that means more providers are working to alter standard configurations to meet industry-specific needs
  • Drone accelerators programs have uncovered the potential of the extremely quick-moving drone companies. They’ve jumped started new companies, and more of that will happen in 2018.
  • Organizations that provide Drones as a Service (DaaS) have matured to the point that providers have proven they can contract big business. This service has also been augmented by certain jobs whose complexity has been reduced, meaning that the DaaS model can allow savings to stay in-house.

Counter-UAS:

  • This is a new market in the civil world that’s rapidly growing with big funding and large international partnerships
  • Pure CUAS conferences and expos have been created to explain threats and opportunities
  • There are limitations for physical and non-physical systems that include jammer restrictions (federal network agency) and problems for health in public spaces (e.g. pacemakers).

Components and Systems:

  • High priced equipment and flights in populated areas call for rigorous safety measures, which is why there’s been a proliferation of launch & recovery They provide more awareness and available solutions for operational security.
  • Brand new drone propulsion methods have been developed, and they’re as essential as they are powerful. Hybrid systems(battery/fuel cell, gas/battery) allow long endurance/range by optimizing mission requirements for hardware.
  • Cameras are now being used for indoor navigation while FLIR cameras almost sold out due to high demand from industry.
  • Encrypted data links are getting very popular since the standard drone-to-ground communication is quite vulnerable. Data & communication logistics and details will continue to be a top priority.
  • Drone ground stations, aka “drone box” solutions, have been labeled by some as complete solutions since they offer a roof over your drone and the ability to wirelessly charge/exchange batteries before the drone takes off on a new pre-programmed flight.

Drop-outs/Struggle:

  • Crowdfunding does not seem to work, as we saw a lot of failures and bankruptcies. Those include Bionic Bird, Micro Drone, FlyPro, Lily, Onagofly and Globe Drone, among others.
  • Many supplier/retailer vanished due to hard competition and not yet high demand, especially in Europe.
  • Yuneec laid off 70% of its U.S. staff in March of 2017 and introduced a new CEO. Parrot announced in January 2017 that it was going to reduce its drone team from 840 employees to 290 people, which represents a reduction by about 66%. Autel also laid off employees in February 2017, while GoPro just announced they were entirely shutting down their drone division and laying off more than 200 employees. All of these developments are an indication of how untenable the aerial market is, and that’s mostly due to the dominance of DJI.
  • While niches like drone racing and selfie-drones seem to work well for many startups, there’s a simple fact that’s impossible to get around: building hobby drones is hard. It’s going to get even more competitive now that DJI has announced ‘Tello’ – a $99 selfie drone designed by Ryze Tech.

Takeaways

  • Machine learning for drone navigation and data analytics is driving numerous developments.
  • The degree of automation and adoption of drone technology will further increase.
  • Conglomerates will directly address the drone market. In the past startups, came up with niche solutions and sometimes were happy to partner with a big industry player, which is something that happened with Airware and Caterpillar. Now though, big companies like Komatsu & NVIDIA are partnering to bring solutions with a bigger scope to the market. Those are partnerships designed to sort out logistics related to topics like AI. It begs to question of whether we’ll see companies like IBM and Hitachi or Qualcomm and Mitsui form the next major partnership that will have a direct and indirect impact on the drone industry.
  • There is a lot happening under the radar in China, especially in agriculture and delivery.

All of these developments are indicative of how and why 2018 is going to be so exciting. The drone industry as a whole will undoubtedly go through some exhilarating highs and discouraging lows. We’ll see solutions that are going to become mature and easier to integrate into existing workflows as well as new capabilities that will enable uses few have even considered. The Drone Ecosystem Map will be a critical resource you’ll be able to refer to and utilize throughout this process. To learn more about the players, their capabilities and their role in the market feel free to contact us. To learn more about the companies listed on the map, check out our services.

No matter if overhyped or not, a well-educated market is a stable market. That’s the kind of market we can all contribute to and want to be part of.

Have a great and successful year 2018!

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Previous articleExpert Roundup: How to get started with drone videography and photography

As the recreational and commercial drone market evolves with light speed, chances to use this technology for civil uses grow – however, this also counts for possibilities to do harm. The ability to do damage in and outside of conflict zones with warfare tactics is frightening and creates an urge to protect oneself. But how?

Counter drone technology can detect, localize, track and/or ‘interact’ with rogue drones in many ways. This can be an alert for people to initiate safety measures or the active defense of aerial thread. Consumer drones are cheap and modifications are easy to make. Terrorists i.e. can carry several grenades and drop them with up to 5km away from the remote controller. They could get into airports disturbing normal operations or cause irritations/crashes with airliners, which may lead to losses of lives. They could threaten the privacy of people, protected places, events or specifically target critical infrastructure. The FBI Director Christopher Wray recently told terrorist might use drones for attacks in the western world imminently.

Attacks can be very different – needless to say, that counter drone measures must be manifold too and there are various techniques available today. The graph shows a selection of counter drone technology manufacturers – this list is not comprehensive.

Detection

Drone detection can be done optically, acoustically or by scanning radio frequencies. This provides the information that a drone is somewhere near you – it doesn’t provide the information where it is exactly and what direction it is flying (e.g. like a fly in your living room: you can hear it but you don’t know where it is exactly).

Detection, however, is the first step to localize and identify a drone to figure out if it’s friend or enemy.

Localization

Finding the specific position, speed and heading of a drone are key to initiate protective measures. Long and short range radars are being used to do that and therewith help to increase the response time for a certain countermeasure.

Active Defense

As mentioned before, active measures do not necessarily mean to just shoot the drone from the sky – let’s start at the lowest end of escalation. To protect your security sensitive facility from drones spying through the window, simply closing the sun-blinds might already do it. Regular checks if a drone dropped a Wi-Fi-sniffer on your roof is one example how to protect oneself against this new sort of threads.

To make sure a drone does not enter a certain security sensitive area, jamming is one possibility of active defense. The electromagnetic ‘overpressure’ brings the incoming drone to a stop until it runs out of battery and either returns home or lands.

Directional jamming means focusing the jamming signal towards the rogue drone. This can be rifle-like beam-antennas pointed at the intruder after localization. Another possibility is to intercept a drone from the ground or from the air. Net-guns are quite popular in this segment but it requires the attacker to be already very close to the area where it doesn’t belong.

Spoofing is a very advanced solution of drone defense and done via protocol manipulation, which takes advantage of weaknesses found in all digital radio protocols. This allows to safely land or steer away the attacking drone. The attackers’ remote control then is inoperative.

Regulation

Using countermeasures in your own backyard is a problem. Firing net-guns or emitting strong electromagnetic fields is illegal in most countries since the latter one i.e. might not just stop drones from operating but also pacemakers. In governmental/military operations, spectrum regulation may not apply. Shielding the G7 summit in Elmau back in 2015 i.e. was a joint effort in line with the federal network agency.

The Main Players

Many companies are exploring this business opportunity – let us give you a brief overview of some relevant solutions on the market per section.

Finland-based Senso Fusion’s counter drone solution ‘AIRFENCE‘ participated at NASA UTM’s TCL2 campaign. AIRFENCE has been designed with over 3 years of military testing with real-world tactical scenarios. At its core, it can automatically detect, locate, track and take over drone controls all on full auto.

Detect and track solutions are provided by companies like Dedrone, DeTect or Gryphon Sensors. Germany-based Dedrone offers fully configurable systems capable of detection, tracking and even jamming rogue drones. Dedrone has partnered with Airbus DS to include the Airbus radar technology to the solution. Dedrone raised a total of $27.9 million USD over the last two years.

Bligther, Airbus DS, Droneshield, IAI offer and many others offer end-to-end solutions using jammers of different bands of the RF spectrum to perform an active action against drones. Their solutions are capable to detect and track drones using technologies such as radar, EO/IR cameras or RF scanning and perform jamming by using directional or omnidirectional antennas.

Department 13 develops software and communication systems for customers in both the public and private sectors. Their spoofing product MESMER features automated detection via RF scanning and allows to stop, redirect, land or take total control of a target drone.

Radio Hill, Vector Solutions and Battelle manufacture manual jamming devices. Battelle is leveraging its DroneDefender system with Dedrone’s platform alert technology to protect critical infrastructure. More than 200 units have been sold so far to the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and international customers.

Active interception solutions provided by Airspace, OpenWorks Engineering, Theiss UAV Solutions, Groupe Assmann or DroneCatcher rely on actively catching drones with nets from ground or in-air. It allows intercepting with low risk of damage to the drone or the surrounding area and either release the net or relocate the ‘thread’ to an appropriate location before releasing the net.

What’s next?

Active counter drone technology is going to be used governmentally only for a foreseeable time. ‘Softer’ solutions might be available for commercial use earlier if regulations e.g. from federal network agencies do not apply. Detailed rules of when, where and how to use counter drone measures outside of governmental applications are not in place at the time when this article was written.

The counter drone market, however, is still a niche market but already shows large contract volumes. Both governmental and commercial possibilities seem endless and we expect a similar rapid market development like we saw in the drone hardware market 2 years ago. This time counter drone technology companies have strong resistance – the vivid startup scene will have to find smart niches and compete against big and established companies that typically served the military sector.

Using drones under extreme conditions remains a challenge for many companies around the world. Choosing the right platform versus a professional service provider for drone operation is equally challenging – especially when the results must be highly accurate.

This 14-page white paper looks at some of these challenges in detail and aims to steer business and technical decision makers through the demanding process of commercial drone operation. Using Australia’s economic and environmental landscape as an example unveils challenges and benefits that come along with drone operation.

WHY READ THIS WHITE PAPER?

As drone technology evolved significantly in 2013, it became a game-changing solution for several industries. In the meantime, national aviation authorities have prepared stable regulatory frameworks for realizing UAV operation and today almost every industry is deploying UAVs to increase productivity and safety.

Especially in the mining, construction and infrastructure industry the technical solutions are mature enough to enable almost fully automated UAV operation, to provide data in the same or better quality in significantly less time compared to traditional methods from ground or by plane or satellite.

This white paper explains how this strong tool offers a real alternative and includes following insights:

  • The economic benefits and added-value of UAV deployment
  • Regulatory framework
  • Understanding the requirements for a successful UAV workflow
  • Comparison of service provider capabilities

INTRODUCTION

In the last 20 years, China and India almost tripled their share of the global economy. Global competition and price dumping lead to challenges in cost and quality for the world’s 13th largest economy – Australia (Department of infrastructure and regional development 2014).

Utilizing UAVs commercially provides high potential for optimizing costs, quality, time and safety across several industries. The UAV market alone is expected to grow to $127 billion in 2020 (PWC 2016).

UAVs truly are a game-changing technology making an impact specifically in low-margin industries. Collecting data via UAV improves data quality, increases work security and makes results accessible much faster. There are many application-specific solutions available today covering tasks like inspection, mapping, surveying and many more.

Many different sensors (optoelectronical, electrochemical, temperature or radio sensors, etc.) have been modified to work with UAVs to acquire data close to the ground and at low speed – this increases result quality and operational safety while reducing costs and downtimes.

Unmanned aerial systems are very complex – improper handling (flight planning, hardware set-up, analytics, etc.) can lead to dramatic loss in quality. Professional service providers can ensure the required quality, especially when it comes to very complex use cases.

Download your free copy here.

The last year in the drone industry moved at incredible pace – especially when it comes to strategic partnerships. We frequently provided updates about partnerships in the past. Now, why is this so important? Drone companies (hardware and software manufacturers, and service providers) are constantly expanding their product/service portfolio and interdisciplinary expertise. This is extremely interesting because it unveils the company’s strategic alignment.

Looking at the last year, the number of strategic partnerships increased by 24% (42 to 55) compared to the same period of the previous year which shows the increasing maturity of the industry. Furthermore, the elements changed: partnerships with software companies (2016: 20% -> 2017: 33%) and services (2016: 29% -> 2017: 31%) increased. The role of hardware is still very important (2016: 51% -> 2017: 36%), but the industry understood that it cannot stand alone anymore – customers look for easy-to-use end-to-end solutions and this involves software and service.

What happened so far

There are very active players like DJI, Intel, Parrot, DroneDeploy, Airware, Airmap and 3DR in the drone industry tirelessly building their individual end-to-end ecosystem. Strategic partnerships, however, are not just there to build a solution but also to detain key-players from competitors. So far it seems there are plenty of fish in the sea but the fight for key-technologies and key-players has already begun some time ago.

Hardware + Hardware

To continuously enlarge the product portfolio and product abilities, HW+HW partnerships are a good way to complete a solution. Yet, these kinds of partnerships are still the minority. Again, this indicates the already high maturity level of the drone technology.

  • Microdrones and Delair-Tech partnered to combine R&D strengths, allowing Delair-Tech and Microdrones to collaborate on “the second generation of commercial UAVs”.
  • UMS Skeldar and Sentient Vision Systems announced an agreement to provide the ViDAR (Visual Identification Detection and Ranging) system for USM Skeldar’s unmanned systems at the Paris Airshow.
  • Dedrone and Battelle will explore ways to create an end-to-end solution (detect and defeat drones) to provide complete airspace security for sensitive infrastructures.

Hardware + Software

The strategic HW+SW coalitions represent the biggest block in the overall comparison, exemplifying the rising value of data driven end-to-end solutions. Hardware manufacturers are currently under extreme pressure and software partnerships are the biggest opportunity to reach the actual clients’ needs: actionable data.

  • Flyability and SkyFutures have partnered up to launch a fully integrated solution for drone-based industrial inspection, merging the critical infrastructure platform (Elios) with inspection software.
  • DroneDeploy and Aeryon Labs teamed up to enable operators capturing imagery using the Aeryon SkyRanger UAV and process it into maps and 3D models on the DroneDeploy platform.
  • 3DR and DJI announced that 3DR’s “Site Scan” software will now work on DJI drones, starting with the Phantom 4 and eventually expanding from there to support other drones in DJI’s product line.

Hardware + Service

HW+SV is a strong combination and often used as an additional sales channel, or to offer a true end-to-end solution. Drone acquired data must be translated into actions. So why not add value through a partner experienced in data uploads to machinery? The following are a few examples of this strategic partnership:

  • John Deere will offer their customers the Kespry aerial intelligence systems. The deal could prove a boon for sales of Kespry’s drones and data analytics software. It could help John Deere tap into new, high-tech means of generating sales and profits in construction and forestry.
  • Flyability’s and MFE Rentals’ partnership enables the Swiss-based drone manufacturer to accelerate the use of the Elios in North America.
  • Freedom Class and SME360 partnered to manage and promote the newly sanctioned FAI Freedom Class and Freedom 500 Drone Racing series globally.

Software + Software

There are a lot of industry-specific software solutions available today. Yet, these niche products need extensions, exposure, and multifunctionality to successfully make their way into industrial applications. Strategic SW+SW partnerships provide a tremendous competitive advantage. Remember: software eats the word!

  • DroneDeploy and Skyward: the two companies will collaborate on an integrated approach that relieves compliance pain and streamlines overall drone operations.
  • PrecisionHawk and AkitaBox partnered to capture data and automatically generate a 3D point cloud, 2D orthographic views, and 3D mesh data models that can be fed into AkitaBox for further analysis and long term planning.
  • 3DR’s Site Scan software and Pix4D’s leading photogrammetry engine offers an industry first: multi-engine photogrammetry processing for aerial data products.

Software + Service

Software as a service business models have revolutionized the world, and SW+SV sales partnerships can supply additional leverage on these models. Service providers on the other hand often require a niche software solution to launch a new business branch, as our first example shows:

  • Airmap and Rakuten’s UTM platform will provide situational awareness for airspace managers. Rakuten entered the commercial drone field with the launch of the Sora Raku, a drone delivery service in April 2016.
  • Airware and Luck Stone partnered to expand UAV data collection processes. Airware’s technology improves operational efficiency with its powerful analytics tools, which were developed specifically for the mining and aggregate industry.
  • DroneBase and Getty Images, a global leader in visual communication, signed a worldwide content distribution deal with the leading global drone pilot platform DroneBase. The agreement allows the supply of high-quality 4K videos to over one million customers.

Service + Service

A partnership between SV+SV providers is a promise for something big. Presuming that both providers already possess the required hardware, software, and sales channels it represents the most comprehensive (“buy”) offer from a customer’s point of view.

  • Measure and energy provider AES partnered, allowing AES to ramp up the use of drones and to get more and state of the art drones on short notice, along with pilots to help run them wherever they are needed.
  • Geo Wing and Hawk Aerial now extend the range of services, sensors, and platforms and provide each partner with the ability to offer their clients superior survey and map products.
  • Camp Six Labs and 3M’s strategic collaboration will help wind-turbine owners achieve optimal performance and return on investment using 3M’s wind products, while simultaneously leveraging on installation efficiencies provided by Camp Six applicators.

What happens next:

The degree of drone hardware and software maturity is high, but the challenge lies within the integration into existing services and business models. Larger players will play an increasingly important role and make drone technology an essential part of their product/service line. Since competition will become much fiercer in the near future product portfolios based on strategic partnerships will have a great advantage, while the competitive pressure on the lone wolfs will rise.

According to Gartner’s Hype Cycle, we are on our way to the valley of disillusionment. This does not mean that the market will slow down or shrink – it means, the industries realize that there is more to the successful adaptation of drone technology than was assumed a year ago.

Strategic partnerships often lead to mergers or acquisitions which will further drive the market consolidation over the next years. Once the market is sorted and the “plateau of productivity” is reached (in 2-5 short years from now), the number of partnerships will decline. Deal sizes for mergers and acquisitions, however, will increase dramatically.

To push the boundaries of drone flight performance, batteries must become smaller and lighter. It appears that we reached a certain limit when it comes to power density. Lithium-Polymer (Li-Po) and Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) batteries have become very small and affordable, mainly driven by the mobile phone industry. This led to a wide adoption and today it is fair to say that the great majority of commercial unmanned aerial vehicles uses batteries as a power source (~96%).

Simply adding more batteries to the system will not create the flight times and payload capacities you are looking for. Now what? Given the current status of specific energies, there are some things to consider in order to achieve higher payloads and longer flight times:

The mass-specific energy (how much power [Wh] per unit mass [kg]) and the volumetric specific energy (how much power [Wh] per unit volume [l]).

Reducing this to the energy source alone would be wrong since the whole system (energy source + propulsion system) has an influence on flight performance. A source with an extremely high energy density (e.g. Kerosene or H2) will not help if the propulsion system (e.g. turbine or fuel cell) is extremely heavy and outweighs the savings.

The efficiency factors of the propulsion systems are very different too: While a battery powered system transforms 73% of the provided energy into movement, a fuel-cell provides 44% and a combustion engine only 39%.

Another factor influencing the decision for an energy source is the intended mission. Is the drone supposed to fly very long distances or carry high payloads? Is the drone going to fly in a limited radius or far away and above the clouds? These questions have a strong influence on the energy-source decision since they allow very different scenarios of operation.

Taking the propulsion system, the mission and the need to increase the energy density into account brings us back to the sources. The graph below shows the specific energy densities per source on a double logarithmic scale:

Batteries

Yes, batteries again. The good thing about batteries is the infrastructure – they can be charged anywhere, in most cases can be transported without limitations, nothing can be spilled or inflamed, and ‘re-fueling’ is done easily by exchanging the battery blocks.

Li-Po and Li-Ion are the most common sources for drones but it does not mean that the journey ends here. Lithium-Thionyl-chloride batteries (Li-SOCl2) promise a 2 times higher energy density per kg compared to Li-Po batteries, Lithium-Air-batteries (Li-air) promise to be almost 7 times higher. However, they are not widely available and they come with a certain price tag. Lithium-Sulfur-batteries (Li-S) may succeed Li-ion cells because of their higher energy density (factor 1,8) and reduced costs from the use of sulfur. 

Hydrogen fuel-cells

Fuel-cells are fascinating: No direct pollution, no sound and they are powered by an extremely powerful source: H2. Comparing liquid H2 with the energy density [Wh/kg] of a Li-Po-battery, there lies a factor 150 between them! This alone is reason enough to bring hydrogen-fuels UAV to the market.

One company looking to take advantage of these opportunities is Protonex, a subsidiary of Burnaby-based fuel cell developer Ballard Power Systems. They recently delivered their proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells to Insitu, a subsidiary of U.S. aerospace giant Boeing that produces military- and industrial-grade, long-endurance, fixed-wing drones, i.e. the “Phantom Eye” or “ScanEagle”.

H3 dynamics and HES Energy Systems which is a cooperation between ST Aerospace, DSO, HES Energy Systems and FSTD Singapore has resulted in a breakthrough in solid-hydrogen on demand powered systems. H3 Dynamics, a developer of robotics technologies, has therefore announced the release of “Hywings”, a hand-launchable fixed-wing UAV capable of 10-hour flight durations and distances of up to 500km.

Hycopter by Horizon Unmanned System reaches four hours of flight without a payload and 2.5 hours of flight time with a 2-pound payload.  This drone makes use of its “hollow” structure to store energy in the form of hydrogen instead of air, eliminating energy storage weight.

MicroMulticopter Aero Technology, Co. Ltd. (MMC) is commercializing Hydrogen fuel-cells for drones, called the “H-1 Fuel Cell”. In addition, the “HyDrone 1550” is the world’s first hydrogen-powered drone designed and manufactured by MMC.

Korean Hylium Industries, Inc. is developing drones with a 4 hours flight time; Montreal-based EnergyOr “H2Quad-1000” reaches 2 hours flight endurance with 1 kg payload.

Intelligent Energy is also selling fuel-cell powered drones and claims: “Intelligent Energy’s air-cooled fuel cell systems run on hydrogen and ambient air to produce clean DC power in a simple, cost-effective, robust and lightweight package. They have a higher energy to mass ratio than battery-based systems and can be refueled in a few minutes.”

Metro skyways Ltd, a subsidiary of Urban Aeronautics announced in April 2017 that the company is developing a four passengers hydrogen-powered VTOL flying car, the “CityHawk”.

Petrol, Kerosene, Methanol, Ethanol, LPG Propane

There are many well established petrol-powered solutions available – some of them with a remarkable flight performance. UAV Factory’s “Penguin C” fixed-wing can fly more than 20 hours with one full tank of gasoline, Siebel’s “CAMCOPTER S-100”, 6 hours.

The beauty of this energy source lies within the combination of high mass-specific energy [Wh/kg] and high volumetric-specific energy [Wh/l]. Compared to Li-Po batteries, gasoline multiplies 48x in mass-density and 13x in volumetric density. Combustion engines, in addition, are robust, small, light-weight and have a good specific fuel consumption.

Another advantage when it comes to endurance is, that gasoline-powered UAVs lose weight over time making the platform lighter and therewith increase the range.

Gas-Electric Hybrids

Great examples are hybrid gas-electric engines from Pegasus Aeronautics based in Waterloo, Ontario or YEAIR from Berlin, Germany. Both combine the quick reactions of an electric motor with the advantages of gasoline powered flight. 

Solar Power

Solar cells have increased their efficiency over the last years from 10% to almost 46% and reach a power ratio of around 175W/m2. To power a drone exclusively with solar a large surface – like the upper side of a wing – is required. They can, however, work very well as range-extenders for multirotor drones as well.

Silicon Valley tech companies are exploring the potential of solar-powered drones: Facebook is making progress with its “Aquila” HALE-UAV (High Altitude, Long Endurance) to bring Wifi to rural areas, and Google X gave solar a shot with its now-defunct Titan.

“Zephyr” by Airbus is a High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) that fills a capability gap between satellites and UAVs. It runs exclusively on solar power and flies above the weather and commercial air traffic, as it reaches a cruising level of up to 70,000 feet. Boeing’s “Solar Eagle” was canceled in 2012.

OpenRobotix Labs is developing a Mars aerial rover – they also built the “XSOL-E1”, a solar powered quadcopter. A company spokesperson outlined that flight time “depends on a lot of factors, but generally, we can extend a 15 min flight up to 40 to 45 minutes using the solar assist technology.”

Solar Hybrids

Solar Hybrids (solar + battery) reach astonishing endurances. Alta Devices and PowerOasis have announced they are “partnering to develop the world’s first reference design for integrated solar and Li-ion battery power systems for small UAVs”. The reference architecture will target 2-4 meter (6.5-13 feet) span UAVs, using 5s-7s Li-ion batteries. The release date for the design is late 2017.

Tethered

Tethered systems allow ‘unlimited’ flight time in a small radius – perfect for surveillance and reconnaissance. The “T1” tether system by MMC can support most drones, such as MMC “TDrone 1200”, DJI “Matrice 600”, DJI “S1000”, Yuneec “Typhoon H”, Intel “Falcon 8+”, Microdrones “md4-1000”, and many more. There are similar projects from Bluevigil, Elistair, Drone Aviation Corp and SPH Engineering.

Super/Ultra-Capacitors

Will graphene bring SuperCaps to new heights? In February 2015 General Electrics was sponsoring research work on supercapacitors. Primary energy sources such as internal combustion engines, fuel-cells and batteries work well as a continuous source of low power, but cannot efficiently handle peak power demands or recapture energy because they discharge and recharge slowly. Supercapacitors deliver quick bursts of energy during peak power demands and then quickly store energy and capture excess power that would otherwise be lost.

It seems that the capacitors are far behind the batteries in energy density but they appear to be a great vehicle to enhance agile gas-electric hybrid configurations.

Laser

Laser Motive has developed the UAV power-link technology, which power-beams drones equipped with a laser receiver. In 2012 “Lockheed Martin, with the assistance of Laser Motive, demonstrated its “Stalker” drone flying for a continuous 48 hours using a laser-based charging system.” Tom Koonce, Stalker program manager, said: “A ground-to-air recharging system like this allows us to provide practically unlimited flight endurance to extend and expand the mission profiles that the Stalker vehicle can fulfill.”

Germany-based Ascending Technologies together with Laser Motive proofed the efficiency this technology back in 2010 on a small quadcopter drone with a 12 hours’ flight.

Bottom line

All drone energy sources have their individual advantages making the usefulness mission specific. Hybrid solutions (source and propulsion system) are in line with the transition towards cleaner energies. Today it seems to be a wise choice to take the best of two worlds since hybrids allow to equalize drawbacks from a single technology. Furthermore, it might be a smart move to see where other industries are heading (e.g. automotive), since these are good multipliers when it comes to future cost reduction due to mass production and availability of infrastructure.

Over the last weeks, we read a lot about flying cars, air-taxis, and personal drones. Recently a variety of concept studies and prototypes was presented and they all immediately create the wish to own one of these and being able to fly wherever you want, watching traffic jams from above. These pictures provoke two things: Make people dream and make great marketing for the creator of these images.

How far away is this future of unlimited aerial mobility?

About a dozen companies around the world, including startups and giant aerospace manufacturers, are working on prototypes. Some of them use this vision of mobility for marketing purposes long before a prototype lifts off the ground, others quietly design a fully functioning platform able to take the world by storm. Regulatory issues, as well as issues in acceptance and privacy, are roadblocks on the way to adoption. Lawmakers must react soon as the pressure towards faster and more economic transport grows.

The chart below shows some of the current air-taxi projects, capabilities and individual progress. In general, the next 5 to 10 years are going to an incredible time for the roll-out of this technology.

Who are the current players?

A lot of these concepts are multirotor-based drone-like concepts and spot-on to the current Zeitgeist. Aeromobil‘s “Flying Car” and Terrafugia‘s “Transition” however have folding wings and therefore require a runway to take off and land. This set-up allows covering large distances much more efficient than (multi-)rotor configurations.

German manufacturer e-volo showed automated operation years ago and has certified prototypes allowing passengers to fly to date. In early 2016 EHANG presented the 184 concept at C.E.S. in Las Vegas and a flying (unmanned) prototype in late December. This Autonomous Aerial Vehicle (AAV) requires no pilot and can be controlled via mobile phone app. EHANG is planning the entry-into-service in Dubai this summer.

Being able to vertically take-off and land (VTOL) has massive advantages especially when it comes to urban mobility. Efficient usage of air-taxis, however, starts at a flight distance of around 10 miles (~6,3km) favoring a fixed-wing configuration.

Why not both? Using multiple engines to lift up a platform vertically and an additional one to push you forward can be seen in the “separate lift thrust” configurations of Aurora Flight Systems’ “eVTOL” and the yet top-secret Zee.Aero platform. A vertical to horizontal flight transition can also be done by turning the engines from vertical to a horizontal position (tilt-rotor/tilt-wing configuration). This can be seen at Moller International‘s “Skycar”, Airbus’ “Vahana”, Joby Aviations’ “S2” or the very recently introduced Lilium platform equipped with 32 tilt-rotor engines.

Where is UBER?

UBER elevate is a mobility concept – just like Airbus’ “PopUp” but not the same. UBER will become an “air-taxi” operator, not a manufacturer. On Wednesday, April 26th the “UBER Elevate Summit” explained this future ecosystem and UBERs approach to zero in on questions like: hub location, hub size, hub occupation, load factor (butts in seats), flight time, airspace separation, minimum ground time, charging time, passenger capacity, platform size and many more. The good news is they can do all of this with real user data, collected by their car-hailing service. This will allow starting on strongly frequented routes providing passengers a minimum time-saving of 40% of the usual trip time. The “UBER Elevate Network” will be tested in Dallas and Dubai starting in 2020.

The drone market today can be described as a melting pot of different technologies, where combinations of hard- and software components and service features are provided to the end user. In order to create sustainable success in this extremely fast moving market it is essential to maintain strategic partnerships or invest in a solid UAV portfolio. This is nothing new and as we showed in our recent publication this is a process that started quite a while ago, long before anyone thought about drones to be the next big thing.

However, lately a few players have been extremely busy with engaging in new partnerships, looking for investment opportunities and acquisitions.

Currently, the commercial UAV market consists of three dominant players, namely DJI, Parrot SA and the Intel Corporation.

Parrot started creating professional solutions at a very early stage. The acquisition of Software manufacturer Pix4D (2012) and MicaSense (2014) were great strategic moves and paved the way to highly advanced end-to-end solutions. Although profit margins in the commercial UAV market were very small at this time, Parrot did invest heavily into their new strategy. Building a new market segment has never been easy (or cheap) and the low-cost competitors from Asia also apply a lot of pressure causing market deficits especially in the hobby/prosumer sector. Despite, the share of the drone sector within the Parrot Group increased from 38% (Q1 2016) to 54% (Q2 2016) due to this strategic move.

Whereas Parrot started three years earlier, Intel Capital started in 2014 to invest into the drone industry. Now, Intel Corp. chooses a pro-active approach and moves into the market by acquiring the missing pieces of the puzzle around their high-performance chip-sets. The Intel RealSense platform combines hardware and software in a way that enables cameras to process and understand images, and eventually providing “computer vision” to flying drones. Before acquiring the German drone manufacturer Ascending Technologies earlier this year, the two companies had already engaged in a close partnership to improve UAV sense and avoid systems. Intel’s biggest and certainly most game-changing move was the acquisition of the mobile vision processor company Movidius. This acquisition paves Intel’s way towards autonomous systems – not only for unmanned aerial vehicles.

Other chip manufacturers such as Qualcomm and Nvidia have recently copied Intel’s strategy, as they see the immense opportunities in becoming technology suppliers for the emerging drone industry.

The third key player and dominant market leader DJI also started a number of new partnerships this year. While Intel and Parrot grew their drone business through acquisitions, DJI now uses partners to expand their business portfolio (e.g. the infrared camera maker FLIR, surveying expert Leica Geosystems and micro ADS-B transponder manufacturer uAviniox). For their position this strategy makes a lot of sense since DJI has everything it needs to bring drones up in the air and as such, does not have to acquire the technology. Partnering can be an extremely quick way to grow a company, particularly in times of rapid change. Without implementing difficult and time-consuming internal changes DJI can expand the knowledge of different industry sectors, boost innovation and increase their market share.

Initially partnerships were heavy on hardware but the demand to deliver high-quality end-to-end products more quickly and at lower costs has become a fundamental part of the entire UAV industry.

If you want to learn more about the investments, acquisitions and partnerships in the drone industry please contact us.

In case you have missed one of our latest publications:

TOP20 Drone Company Ranking Q3 2016

Drones in Surveying – a Value Chain Analysis for the Construction Industry