Posts tagged "UAS"

In my last post, Five Biggest Commercial Drone Trends of 2017 and the Challenges Ahead, I used data from our 2017 Drone Market Sector Report to illustrate the major trends of the past year and describe the major challenges ahead for the drone industry. That post looked back, but this one looks forward, offering our specific predictions for 2018, including investments, technology improvements, ecosystem partnerships, and software innovations.

(Listen to this companion Drone Radio Show podcast here for our complete assessment.)

1. Investment and testing will continue in earnest on Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations.

With regulations moving at the speed of government and dissenting views on Drone ID, it seems like UTM (air traffic management for low-altitude drones) is an elusive dream. However, there is hope that testing being done on beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations in drone corridors will provide the necessary inputs to integrate drones into the national airspace. Expect news this summer from the vendors and service providers conducting tests at NUAIR in New York as they release results and performance-based navigation standards begin to coalesce.

2. You’ll see more news on improved sensors, hardware integration, networking, and processing.

Already, we’ve seen announcements like this one for new thermal imaging drone payloads. Expect to see further Ethernet / IP sensor integration efforts as more and more remote managers demand immediate access to data from local operations. Expect more news on LiDAR / drone integration like this one from Delair-Tech as more land surveyors and construction professionals demand further time and money savings over traditional methods.

3. Look for more partnerships, software, and innovations coming from the DJI Enterprise ecosystem.

We noted in our 2017 Drone Market Sector Report just how much DJI dominates the industry with its 72% market share. All the major mission-planning and mapping applications—like DroneDeploy, PrecisionHawk’s PrecisionMapper, Skycatch, and dozens more—now run on the DJI SDK. What our report didn’t mention was DJI’s focused efforts to further expand its commercial ecosystem. DJI Enterprise’s AirWorks Conference is but one example, an event whose purpose is showcasing applied drone solutions for the commercial industry’s most challenging obstacles. Expect many innovations from DJI’s partners in the hardware, software, and service sectors.

4. Software will dominate advancements.

Along with the new imaging sensor announcements in 2018, we expect to see imaging software advancements as companies seek to combine RGB, thermal imaging, orthomosaic, and radiometric data.

We also expect to see more aerial imaging and mapping software firms announce artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. Right now, most of this is cloud-based machine learning (aka deep learning and predictive analytics) where data sets are trained by specialized teams. You may see some edge-based AI announcements for image recognition/machine vision, but be cautious when you do. We think it’s still early in the technology development cycle and AI is at peak hype.

We think the big news for 2018 will be the integration of drone data and workflow into asset management systems. Capabilities include documentation, tracking, and GIS data integration. It may bring a yawn to some but we believe when you can connect the dots and show the effect of drone data capture on the balance sheet, CFOs and CEOs will take notice and drive further enterprise adoption.

Parting thoughts

As I speak to clients, I always like to remind them of two things about the commercial drone market. First, it’s not a drone market, it’s a data and information market. The drone is just a data capture device. Second, drones are aircraf, not consumer products and as such their operations are regulated by aviation authorities.  All technology advancements aside, this is a regulated market, so always expect lumpy, bumpy growth.

We hope you keep those in mind as well and wish you best success in the coming year.

Listen to the companion podcast here http://bit.ly/2CXe6uK.

If you have questions about what’s in the report I mention or would like to comment, write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: Shutterstock and Skylogic Research

Last year at this time, I reflected back on the news and trends of the commercial drone markets of 2016 and wrote about the mixed state of affairs ahead for 2017. Throughout the year, I offered my perspective on how the drone industry was still motivated by hype and how assessing forward momentum required hard data on the performance of the various sectors of the industry. To that end, we did research over the summer that surveyed 2,600 respondents on drone purchases, service providers, business users, and software services. In September, we published the data in 2017 Drone Market Sector Report 2017.

In this post, I’ll use that data to illustrate the major trends of the past year and describe what I think are the major challenges ahead for the drone industry.

Listen to this companion Drone Radio Show podcast here for the complete assessment.

Trend 1—Growth

By all measures, the drone industry in 2017 was marked by significant growth – growth in aircraft sales, software licenses, the number of service businesses entering the market, and the number of industrial businesses setting up commercial operations.

Here are a few statistics:

  • We project U.S. sales in 2017 to be about 3.3M units, which is 36% above 2016 figures. That’s all drones, all sizes. It’s about 1.3M units for the >250gram category.
  • As of October 31st, there were about 837,000 hobbyist users and 107,000 non-hobbyist drones registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
  • As of December 1st, there were about 66,000 Part 107 FAA Pilots.

This represents a big change in the commercial market since Part 107 regulations supplanted Section 333 as the means for commercial operations in the U.S. What this and our survey data tells us is the number of service providers currently outpaces demand, and as a result, service prices are coming down significantly.

Trend 2—Consumerization

We said in our report that more consumer drones are being used for commercial work than ever before. For example, our data shows that more than two-thirds (68%) of all drones weighing over 250 grams are purchased for professional purposes—either governmental or business.

Why is this significant? Because the impact of consumer-originated technology on the enterprise is something that can’t be ignored. Enterprises want to take advantage of powerful, yet easy-to-use products (like DJI’s popular consumer models), and put them to work on the job. What this means for operators or businesses is that a shared core technology benefits all users and enables companies to scale the best experiences to everyone. Enterprise customers get the added simplicity and usability of the consumer product that has been built to meet the demands of thousands of customers around the world.  The average individual pilot gets to benefit from the reliability and scalability inherent in the product and demanded by enterprise users.

Trend 3—The DJI effect

Our data shows DJI is the clear market leader in drone aircraft sales and almost every software category. For example, DJI is the dominant brand for drone aircraft purchases, with a 72% global market share across all price points and an even higher share (87%) of the core $1,000–$1,999 price segment. Additionally, in the three categories of software we evaluated, DJI is the market-share leader in two: flight logging and operations, and automated mission planning.

This is significant because by building on top of its existing technology platform, DJI has fast-tracked development and has benefited from economies of scale. By migrating a successful technology stack and feature set upmarket, DJI never has to reinvent the wheel—it just needs to improve upon the original design and save engineering cycles for real innovation.

The upshot is that to stay relevant, all the other major vendors have had to partner with DJI (see Trend 5 Partnerships, below). DJI’s sales success has taken market share from others and has led to layoffs at 3DR, Autel, GoPro, Parrot, and Yuneec. However, fears about data security remain. And this has some speculating about whether DJI can sustain its leadership role in the future.

Trend 4—Investments

According to CB Insights, investments shifted in 2017 from aircraft hardware to software. In 2016, there were 106 deals totaling $542M. Most of these were for hardware. In 2017, VCs focused on software, end-to-end solutions, and counter-drone technology. CB Insights projects the year will end with 110 deals totaling $494M. The most significant investment this past year was 3D Robotics’ $53M Series D round. It saw them pivot from hardware to software services.

Why is this significant?  Because it shows the industry is still maturing. Seed and Series A rounds represented 60% of all deals in 2017; whereas early-stage share peaked in 2015 at 73% of deals. Additionally, some of the most well-funded drone companies are targeting enterprise and industrial inspection.

What this means for operators or businesses is greater affordability. Software advances, computer chip manufacturing techniques, and economies of scale will continue to drive down the cost of drone platforms and sensors and solutions.

Trend 5—Partnerships

This year we saw a change from synergistic merger and acquisitions to the creation of end-to-end solutions via partnerships. For example, look at how DJI’s enterprise partnerships have grown. Consider their AirWorks conference. What drone major vendor wasn’t there? The list included DroneDeploy, Measure, PrecisionHawk, Skycatch, and Sentera, to name a few.

This past year we also saw an uptick in regulators and industry stakeholder partnerships. For example, the Drone Advisory Committee was created to provide the FAA with advice on unmanned aircraft integration from a diverse group of stakeholders. Major commercial participants include Intel, DJI, Amazon, Google X, and Facebook, as well the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Consider also the FAA’s new UAS Integration Pilot Program. Here, government entities are partnering with private-sector companies, such as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operators and manufacturers, to submit proposals to the FAA to fly more advanced operations in their communities, including flying beyond line of sight and over people. This is significant because it’s clear that regulators want to include industry when creating policies.

However, there is some good news / bad news with this.

The good news is greater flexibility. With vendor partnerships, drones will be able to perform more types of data gathering in a shorter timeframe and with more precision than many other options. So, more aircraft, sensor, and software integration.

The bad news is operators and businesses have regulatory uncertainty. We advise our clients to plan for some uncertainty as technology, the public, and bureaucracy find common ground on operations for beyond visual line of sight and over people.

Challenges ahead

Here’s my list of the major challenges facing the drone industry in 2018:

  1. Regulations: We may see more regulatory red tape—e.g., a patchwork quilt of rules as the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program begins to make policy.
  2. Public sentiment: Basic public concerns still exist about drone safety, security, privacy, and their public nuisance. My question is: How can we overcome this?
  3. Business value: We’ve yet to see credible ROI that hits the executive scorecard. The key question is: What monetary benefit do drones and information gleaned from drones provide shareholder value?
  4. Information accuracy: Up to now, drone vendors have been focused on the accuracy of image capture and the rigor of the drone system. For better business value, they need to focus on the accuracy of the data processing and the rigor of data analysis.
  5. IT data governance: This is especially the case for drone inspections where a single drone could collect 50 to 100 gigabytes of data. Managing these large data sets starts to become one of the things that have to be worked out.
  6. Automation: A lot of software automation will come, including artificial intelligence (AI) or algorithms that minimize the amount of human effort to distill all that information and get to some actionable inference. But large scale industrial use of AI is young and it requires manual intervention to distinguish the difference between near-similar objects.
  7. Endurance: We’re still on the quest for efficiencies like better power sources or mixes.
  8. Widespread business adoption: Business and industry adoption is growing, but it’s mixed because of factors such as business risk aversion, concerns over invasion of privacy, and a reluctance by many companies to share too much information about successes.

That’s it for now.

Listen to the companion podcast here http://bit.ly/2CXe6uK.

Look for a follow-up piece on our specific predictions for 2018, which will include investments, technology improvements, ecosystem partnerships, and software innovations.

If you have questions about what’s in the report I mention or would like to comment, write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: Shutterstock

The constant beating of mosquito wings you hear this summer may soon include the buzzing of propellers from flying mosquito-killing machines, otherwise known as drones.

Pioneered by the U.S. military, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, are being proposed in a growing number of commercial applications. Today, UAS technology is increasingly used to predict, prevent and study disease outbreaks. Most recently, drones are being considered to support mosquito control. One of, if not the most dangerous creatures on Earth, mosquitos have been spreading deadly diseases to humans for centuries. The latest plague they’re spreading is the Zika virus, and current methods of preventing mosquito-borne diseases continue to be highly inefficient.

Traditional methods such as helicopters, planes or ground workers with handheld sprayers also fall short in obtaining significant data from animals that live in harsh environments—drones could be the answer. By catching mosquitos, drones can help scientists to better understand and respond to the way diseases become epidemics. They can detect, catch and take blood samples of mosquitos to help them better mitigate the potential for infectious disease outbreaks before they become wide-spread health disasters.

Drones for Mosquito Control

Not only in an effort to study these dangerous insects, but to effect more immediate results, drones are set to be the future of mosquito control. For instance, Ascension Parish, a small district in the state of Louisiana, recently bought a drone in time for peak mosquito season. This June, Ascension launched the drone to fly, hover and spray up to 20 pounds of chemicals at a time in hard-to-reach areas where mosquitos breed. There, a private mosquito control company has also been using drones to scout for breeding sites to kill larvae found in standing water, removing the next generation of mosquitos before they take flight. This method is one of the best ways to control the population of mosquitos and prevent the spread of disease to humans.

With drones, operators can spray with greater precision, which will allow the company to save on cost, improve worker safety and limit environmental impact unlike more commonly applied aerial methods. Drones outfitted with cameras can also survey hard-to-reach breeding sites and enable the rapid, repeatable and safe collection of high-resolution imagery. Aerial mappingwith drones can be used to conduct site surveys and track job progress while conducting real-time data gathering and analysis.

Operational Intelligence Promoting Disease Control Innovations

Currently, the Ascension Parish mosquito control company mentioned above has employees in training to operate drones and they have been continuing to work on licensing requirements with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Safety and privacy concerns have often stalled the advancement of such commercial applications of drones. However, solutions like Simulyze’s operational intelligence (OI) platform, for example, provide the foundation needed for safe UAS flight.

By providing a complete operational view of post-workflow data, OI provides deep analytics, real-time processing, insight and intelligence that enables better-informed decision making. OI is helping to grow this industry and improve mapmaking, surveying and UAS situational awareness altogether.

OI has proven that drones can be safely integrated into the national airspace and can provide the necessary measures for eased FAA regulations to allow for further use and study of commercial UAS applications. All things considered, drones are already on their way to the frontline of mosquito control and global disease research.

Climate change is one of the biggest topics facing humanity today and, for climate scientists, data is everything. However, collecting data is rarely a quick or inexpensive task, particularly when that data is best acquired via a bird’s eye view of Greenland’s melting ice sheet or the rising sea levels on California’s coastlines, for instance.

Here’s where unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more popularly known as drones, can play an integral role in the study of climate change. Drone technology can fill the data niches inaccessible to conventional methods of aerial data collection. It can offer researchers that essential bird’s eye view, but at far less cost than traditional methods such as helicopters, chartering planes or satellite data.

Environmental Protection from a Drone’s Eye View 

Now, UAS is not necessarily a new technology for climate scientists. Researchers began utilizing UAS in the 1990s, however that technology has been far surpassed by what is available to researchers today. Nowadays, scientists have access to drones that are more affordable, capable and user-friendly than what they were working with just over a decade ago.

For instance, sending out a UAS to survey an area requires minimal personnel, and can be done in a matter of minutes. “We can go from launching a drone to having workable data in four hours, versus maybe four days if we’re using an airplane,” recounts David Johnston, assistant professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

In addition to making gathering data easier, less expensive and less time consuming, operational intelligence (OI) technology offers real-time data analysis which provides scientists with more accurate data with which to study changes to the planet and mitigate the accompanying impacts. While flying over vast, rugged landscapes, UAS can collect GPS coordinates, real-time video and still images of the situation, helping scientists establish priorities at mission control. This data can be overlaid on area topography and maps using an OI platform like Simulyze’s Mission Insight.

Not only data analysis but the images drones produce can also provide great opportunities for researchers. UAS imagery enables photogrammetry by collecting still images and video that are pieced together to form 3D representations and maps that can be used to predict events like the current sea level rise in coastal areas. Also necessary for studying the effects of climate change, thermal imaging cameras can be used to study animal populations in a variety of environments.

“It [drones] gives you a scale you can’t get anywhere else,” said New York Times photographer, Josh Haner. Drones can easily communicate the shocking effects of climate change to inform scientific and public understanding of the situation. This footage of the Marshall Islands, for example, demonstrates how millions of people are in danger of losing their homes due to rising water levels brought on by global warming. “Drone imagery can add a new visual layer that hopefully draws viewers into an important story, giving them a new perspective on a complicated subject,” concluded Haner.

OI Promoting Climate Research Innovation

Although drones are providing more valuable opportunities for scientists than ever before, drone operators have limitations of their own. In particular, they need the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authorization to operate their drone in the national airspace.

However, drones along with applications that run on an Operational Intelligence (OI) platform are proven to be more accurate and effective than operations carried out by traditional methods. Though the industry has faced concerns about the number of drones in our skies, it’s important to remember that OI can provide a key foundation needed for scientists to continue to study and protect our planet.

UAS are opening up new research possibilities and deepening the scientific record in ways that are having measurable impacts on our understanding of changing environments. Drones don’t just offer a safer way for scientists to observe and collect data; they’re often less costly, more efficient and more precise than traditional approaches. This technology is only going to become more important as a capable research tool and more so as drones become further integrated with other advanced technologies.

The news is full of stories of crises around the globe, and getting much-needed aid and materials to affected areas – whether in times of natural disasters or ongoing humanitarian issues – can often be a challenge. Natural and manmade disasters often take out critical infrastructures, from roads to railways to means of communication, leaving first responders scrambling in times when they’re needed most.

But emerging drone technology is helping solve that critical shortfall in times of humanitarian crisis. The very same unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that are making headlines for same-day delivery can provide valuable services for aid workers and others on the ground.

From accessing areas that vehicles simply can’t reach to more safely entering unsound structures, here are four ways UAS technology can provide a helping hand with disaster relief.

Going Down the Road Less Traveled

Step one following any disaster is to assess the current situation to best determine the next steps – determining who needs immediate assistance and where. But in remote areas where roadways are questionable before disaster hits, following a crisis, simply accessing these locations can be a monumental challenge.

Enter drones. With unmanned flights that can soar above any wrecked infrastructure, first responders and humanitarian missions can quickly and easily identify damage such as toppled buildings, obstructed roadways and fallen infrastructure, as well as locate potential survivors.

Such was the case in Utah, where late last year, flash floods swept through the cities of Hilldale and Colorado City. The Utah Division of Emergency Management deployed drones to survey where the floods started, assess damage and even access restricted areas where helicopters and other means of transportation weren’t usable in the past, such as tight river channels.

Save Time and Money

Dispatching fleets of emergency responders via helicopter or land vehicles costs precious resources, particularly in times when lives might hang in the balance. Sending out a UAS to survey an area requires minimal personnel, and it can be done in a matter of minutes following a disaster.

With UAS in use, emergency employees can also realize incredible budget savings. Per Utah Division of Emergency Management spokesperson Joe Dougherty, the Division purchased a drone for $2,200, which requires little to no maintenance costs. But helicopter missions – whether to survey damage, search for survivors or other emergency tasks – can cost upwards of $4,000 an hour for each deployment. In April’s flood, the ability to fly into previously inaccessible areas using a UAS instead of a helicopter saved time and money and afforded the Division critical information that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

While drones can’t rescue people (yet), helping to pinpoint key areas of interest more quickly with UAS technology can potentially help reduce costs for each mission and reap dramatic savings for budget-conscious municipalities and emergency response teams.

Set Priorities for First Responders 

Using a single operator, aid organizations, emergency management operations and law enforcement departments can quickly observe damaged areas, like those left unsteady following April 2015’s earthquake in Nepal, without endangering other lives.

Flying over ravaged landscapes, drones collect GPS coordinates, real-time video and still images of the damage, helping first responders set priorities back at mission control. This data can be overlaid on area topography and maps using operational intelligence (OI) technology to show specifically where and how the landscape has shifted, as is often the case with powerful earthquakes, floods and other natural and manmade disasters that can decimate identifying landmarks.

This insight is invaluable for crews tasked with determining where to set up key access points to the area, locating and rescuing survivors and identifying critical needs for those who are still in the vicinity.

Go Where No Man Has Gone Before

In addition to getting into tight spaces like the flood channels in Utah, drones and other unmanned vehicles are ideal for deployment in areas that might not be safe for humans following disasters. Post 9/11, unmanned ground vehicles were sent into the rubble to search for survivors in buildings that lacked structural integrity.

Similarly, cases of arson, earthquakes, tornadoes and other emergencies can severely alter a building’s integrity and affect the ability of first responders to enter and assess damages. Using unmanned vehicles, emergency crews can gain unprecedented access to these areas without putting personnel at risk, with the added benefit of recording the encounter and collecting additional data.

UAS are also being used to measure radiation in nuclear power plant accidents because they can fly lower than manned operations without risk of exposure.

UAS adoption is rising rapidly, and while we hear stories about drones and their potential to make our lives more convenient, we shouldn’t forget that UAS also stand to have a dramatic impact on saving lives during times of disaster and helping those affected return to life as normal as quickly as possible following a crisis.

We just announced the start of our 2017 Drone Market Sector Research, which promises to be the most comprehensive study of drone market trends and usage to date. The online portion of this research seeks to get your opinions about buying and using small unmanned aircraft systems—otherwise known as drones This independent research is being underwritten by Airware and DroneDeploy and is designed to uncover fresh insights on which drone industry sectors are thriving (and which aren’t) and how businesses are using drone-acquired data in their day-to-day operations.

Why are we doing this?

Because we believe the consumer and commercial drone market needs it. Our observations:

  • We see a lack of objective information on the drone industry.
  • We find there’s an absence of credible market-based research.
  • We see little understanding of the difference between large industry forecasts and actual buyer adoption rates.

The survey will explore:

  • Who’s buying what types of drones from which makers at which prices and for what use?
  • How large are drone-based service providers and how and where are they positioning themselves to whom and which target industries?
  • What concerns business buyers of drone-based projects most and why?
  • How much are service providers and business buyers using flight management and data analytic software for image-based projects?

Who should take the survey?

  • Individuals or businesses who have purchased a drone in the past 12 months for any reason
  • Commercial drone service providers
  • Businesses that use drones or drone services as part of their company’s internal work or projects

Take the brief 10-minute survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2017_drone_market

As an incentive for your participation in the survey, there will be an opportunity to:

  • Receive a free summary report of the research results, a $95 value
  • Enter to win a free DJI Spark Mini Drone (a $400 value) or one of two $100 VISA gift cards.

When complete, the research study will provide a complete view of topics like:

  • Critical industry drivers
  • Vendor and service provider market share
  • Business adoption trends and issues
  • Market size for all drones and growth projections by segment

The survey will be in market for four weeks, and results will be available in September.

As always, I’m interested in hearing from you.  If have questions or comments, feel free comment below or email me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image: Shutterstock and Skylogic Research

We just released a new research report titled “Five Valuable Business Lessons About Drones in Asset and Infrastructure Inspection” This is the fourth in a series of white papers intended to share lessons learned in specific industries and how to maximize the value drones can deliver in those industries. This year, we are building on the analysis we did for the 2016 “Truth About” papers by incorporating real-world experience gained from businesses and drone pilots operating under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (aka FAA Part 107).

In the report, which co-authored by Chris Korody, we demonstrate what drone operators servicing a wide variety of industries have learned about what works and what doesn’t. We explore both the benefits and limitations of drone inspection projects and offer practical advice to would-be adopters. We answer questions like: What have companies learned about creating their own internal drone operation groups? And where do we go or what can we expect from here?

Here is an excerpt:

“While both media and investors have primarily focused on opportunities for using drones in the construction and agriculture industries, inspection applications have fostered innovation together with significant returns on investment. The reasons begin with the “four Ds”—a term coined by GE Ventures to describe the unique ability of drones to meet the needs of their field services customers. The four D’s describe any activity that’s tailor-made to be performed by a drone, and are:

  • Dull
  • Dirty
  • Dangerous
  • Distant

In a 2014 interview, Sue Siegel, the CEO of GE Ventures, added a fifth “D”—for data—saying simply, “Imagine that if you’re doing it faster, you might be able to do it more often. And more data typically will give you better data.”

The four Ds+1 combination is one of the most compelling arguments for drone adoption in companies where uptime is money, crews are expensive, and structures and facilities are often expected to last 50 to 100 years.

The other compelling argument is cost reduction. McKinsey Consulting’s recent white paper “Preserving the downturn’s upside highlights how the oil and gas industry reduced costs by 29% in response to falling oil prices. They show that 40% to 50% of the savings came from eliminating the demand for a variety of services, including manned aviation support. The innovators figured out how to put drones to work.”

The report goes on to discuss how drones and the data from drones offer huge advantages in the oil & gas, telecommunications, and utility industries. It also provides insights from Dexter Lewis, PE, senior engineer in the research and development group at Southern Company (NYSE: SO) which brings electricity and gas to 9 million customers.

You can get the free report here.

If you have questions about what’s in the report or would like to comment on it after reading it, write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Drones are best known for taking to the skies in an increasing number of industries and uses. But many may not be aware that drones are also hard at work in the world’s oceans as underwater vehicles serving a range of military, commercial and scientific needs.

Within the unmanned system space, a lot of the focus tends to fall upon aerial vehicles, but underwater drones have been used quite a bit throughout the history of unmanned operations with continuous technical advancements.

They’ve been employed in the search for the missing Malaysian airliner (which unintentionally unearthed two ancient shipwrecks), for general ship repair and much more. Underwater drones are playing an increasingly important role in several industries and constantly impacting underwater operations.

Operational intelligence (OI) technology can help to ensure drone safety and provide unprecedented data insight, both above water and below it. The technology ensures safety and efficiency for multiple operations by aggregating various data sources to provide greater situational awareness.

With OI technology in UAS’ corner, these five underwater drone operations are poised to take off.

Oil and Energy

By the 1980s underwater drones known as remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, became more widely used for the offshore oil and gas industry. Since then, designs have evolved and capabilities increased for underwater drones to operate at greater depths, and carry much higher-resolution cameras, more sensitive sonar and more capable manipulator arms. As the world’s population increases, the need for efficient product and energy delivery is becoming more pressing. Many new energy developments such as wind, solar or oil and gas, involve under water infrastructure.

In particular, fossil fuel companies looking for ways to speed up exploration, drilling, construction and maintenance work turn to these heavy-duty underwater drones.

Infrastructure Surveys 

Routine inspections are the key to the long term care and success of any infrastructure. However, inspections of underwater infrastructure are historically strenuous and difficult, and often dangerous. Underwater drones can now protect divers from these situations and make routine inspections and repairs possible.

Many bridges for example, act as homes for electrical, gas, high-speed data and other utilities. The inspection and maintenance of those utilities is critical to maintain service and avoid hazards to navigation. Today, a survey and imaging system can be mounted on an ROV or AUV to inspect the deepest structures and bridges. Underwater drones can supply better methods for acquiring and recording data that improve quality, cost-effectiveness and safety of traditional inspections.

Search and Recovery Missions

Autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUVs, are another type of underwater drone. Unlike ROVs they are more likely to be employed for underwater survey missions such as detecting and mapping submerged wrecks, rocks and obstructions that can be a hazard to navigation for commercial and recreational vessels. AUVs are often deployed on search and recovery missions. Search efforts for missing aircraft and wreckage are common jobs for AUVs, such as the search for the Malaysian Airline flight 370 that disappeared in 2014. This new technology has demonstrated that it can cover wide seabed areas at a higher resolution over shorter periods of time compared to conventional sonar systems.

Military Duties

Ever since the 1960s, scientists have been working to expand the use of underwater drones in the military. Today, they have begun testing drones that can glide underwater for days or weeks, quietly collecting data from the ocean floor to send back to crews on ships or on land. Information is quickly transmitted back and forth from the vessel to the military operator to analyze large streams of data.

The upcoming year is expected to bring about the massive development and purchase of underwater drones. They will be stealthily gathering intelligence, detecting and neutralizing mines, hunting submarines and charting the ocean floor. With the advanced technology today, underwater drones are scalable and dependable, and they can operate with a high degree of autonomy while potentially submerged for months at a time.

Environmental Study and Conservation  

Underwater drones have opened a whole new world of undersea exploration. With these underwater vessels scientists can get a glimpse of what lies below the surface without ever venturing into the water themselves. Today, not only scientists and engineers, but anyone with the interest can explore the depths of the ocean with commercial underwater drones. Professional and amateur archeologists alike can explore exciting marine wildlife, shipwrecks, lost artifacts and much more without ever leaving the operation deck, and with minimal impact on the sites.

Underwater drones are helping scientists to explore and understand the undersea world, but they’re also protecting it. They’re helping save the underwater environment, particularly in areas that are inaccessible and too deep for divers. From cleaning the oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico to monitoring Great White Sharks near Guadalupe, underwater drones are helping to protect our oceans.

Sky-Futures cloud-based drone inspection visualization and reporting software squarely targets the asset inspection sector, but will it be broadly adopted?

THE FACTS:

No one questions whether the founders of Sky-Futures know what they are doing.  When it comes to drone inspections they have “been there, done that.”  You can read about their history and where they are going in The importance of industrial experience when enabling enterprise with drone capabilities, a post written by co-founder & CEO James Harrison. I won’t repeat all the facts, just the salient one.

When they started in June 2009, they assessed different markets, sizing them and then trying to forecast how they would look in 5 and 10 years’ time. They chose the drone inspection service market in the oil and gas (O&G) industry because of its highly inaccessible, highly hazardous and critical infrastructure, and its focus on safety and regulation. They succeeded in understanding the very specific needs of the industrial inspections market, got steady revenue stream, and have now turned to offering a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product as another generator of their future value. Their product is called ExpanseSM and is designed and built for drone-based operations management, inspections, data analysis, and reporting.

WHAT’S COOL AND WHAT’S NOT

There’s a lot to like about Expanse.  For one, it has an asset-centric view of the world—not an inspection-centric one.  In the inspection-centric view, reports provide little context for consumers of the information on the “who, what, where, and when” of problems. By taking the asset-centric view, Expanse starts with the “where” (a specific structure) and allows users to navigate to the areas of an asset that’s important to them—the “what,” like a rusty pipe or misaligned cell tower antenna. Everyone reading inspection reports has a different need (not everybody has responsibility for the integrity of pipes), so the software provides context.

The other thing that is very smart about Expanse is that all elements of the software are built around the deliverable—the inspection report. In this regard, it starts with the end in mind. How Covey-ish is that? The software enables drone inspection firms to share analysis reports with multiple stakeholders. Customers and third parties can access the media with security controls. It uses leading edge security protocols (like web-based video streaming), where unique permission holder access information is generated for each media file at runtime and cannot be shared with others. This should please enterprise privacy and risk mitigation legal beagles and IT data governance stewards.

There’s a whole host of features that users will like, such as the ability to make 3D links to objects that can be marked up with annotations, measurement, and observational classifications. Additionally, Expanse comes with image analysis tools for scaling, measurement on the incident plane, focus problem area size, comparisons over time, etc.

THE COMPETITION:

Expanse is new to the market, and it’s clear it was built around the needs of Sky-Futures’ O&G clients as consumers of the data. Sky-Futures’ hope is that its software’s features will translate to the requirements of the entire vertical infrastructure inspection market. They hope the integrity, inspection, and business drivers for a bridge, wind turbine, cell tower, and other managed facilities and structures share the same key characteristics that are addressed by their O&G-focused Expanse software.

We have written about the needs of the inspection market in The Truth about Drones in Construction and Infrastructure Inspection, and we think Expanse has a head start on the path to greater adoption. But we also think there will be a struggle for enterprises using drone data in general. That struggle is learning how to integrate the inspection data and analytics from software like Expanse into broader, more highly adopted software used for enterprise asset management (EAM), such as Infor EAM, Oracle EAM, and SAP EAM.

Infor may have leap-frogged all of this with their Drone Enterprise Asset Management Solution (DEAMS), which is also offered Drone Aviation Corp. Infor’s DEAMS uses purpose-built middleware that processes the data collected by drones’ onboard sensors and integrates it with Infor EAM and its maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) applications. The data from DEAMS can also be analyzed with easy-to-use analytics to produce up-to-date information about the asset life, allowing for quicker and more effective decision-making.

BOTTOM LINE:

So, stepping back, one question remains: In the long run, will large enterprises employ service providers who use software like Expanse, or will they opt for integrated solutions like DEAMS? There may be a middle ground when Sky-Futures (or a third party) offers integration plugins for broader EAM solutions. We’ll see.  In the meantime, we expect that Expanse will continue to evolve and offer new features that other customers outside of O&G want.

Image credit: Sky-Futures

This post first appeared on DRONELIFE.com