Three Essentials for Building Public Safety and First Responder Drone Programs

Increasing use of drones surfaces three best practices for state and local police, sheriffs, fire departments, and teams in EMS, search and rescue, tactical response, and disaster response.

 

I just released two new drone industry guides titled Three Essentials For Building Your Law Enforcement Drone Program and Three Essentials For Building Your Fire and Rescue Drone Program.

These are the first in a series of papers intended to share the latest lessons learned in specific industries and how to sustain and grow a drone program.

These guides offer essential best practices for law enforcement and fire and rescue teams. They answer questions like:

  • What have current users learned about what works and what doesn’t?
  • What are the most important topics to know to keep your drone program ongoing?
  • And where should you go to learn what’s next?

Here is an excerpt from the law enforcement guide:

Essential 1 – Take advantage of the latest technology

New technology is progressing rapidly in drones and aerial imaging processing—more rapidly and at lower costs than manned-based aviation solutions. It is important to keep up with the changes that could benefit your program. Nearly every week, a new product is announced. Two of the most exciting recent developments are smaller combination sensors and augmented reality.

The new sensors, like the one found on the DJI Mavic Enterprise Dual, combine visible and thermal imagery in one sensor. Multiple display modes allow you to see either the infrared or the visible image or a combination. Isotherm readouts help you get accurate heat measurements on a variety of objects and scenarios. This gives tactical teams more flexibility–they may no longer need to fly two drones each with its own sensor or deal with the complexity of landing and swapping out two separate sensors on the same drone.

ACTION: Keep up to date by attending at least one commercial drone show a year. When evaluating drone solutions or software applications, ask how new capabilities can meet your mission requirements.  If you don’t have a list of mission requirements, start with a narrow scope of operation. For instance, we recommend you treat drones as a response tool—not a patrol tool—and pick from a list of four operations that your constituents would find most palatable: search and rescue, accident scene documentation, the pursuit of an armed suspect, and disaster mitigation.

The guides describe what many police, fire, and emergency responders have learned from their programs and recommend the actions you should take for successful implementation and ongoing use.

You can download the free guides from our sponsor’s site here:

Three Essentials For Building Your Law Enforcement Drone Program: http://bit.ly/2UbrXcY

Three Essentials For Building Your Fire and Rescue Drone Program: http://bit.ly/2vHIiaM

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

Quick Start Guide to Drones in Construction

I’m happy to announce the release of the Quick Start Guide to Drones in Construction.

This report is the first in a new series of Skylogic Research white papers, intended to provide a complete primer to drone use in specific industries. This year, we are building on the analysis we did for the 2017 Five Valuable Business Lessons Learned papers by providing guidance and industry-specific resources that will help you kick-start your practice. Our goal is to help drone-based service providers and business users maximize the value that drones can bring to operational groups.

What’s in it?

This report consolidates our best insights into the challenges and solutions drones add to the worksite. We show how drones as a unified data collection device are bridging the gap between the Architectural, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) silos. We answer questions like:

  • How big is the construction drone market, and who are the major solution providers?
  • How are drones used in the AEC industry, and what are the challenges?
  • What do you need to know about regulations, pilot certification, insurance, and training?
  • What are the best practices for adopting drones into workflows?

Here is an excerpt from the lessons learned / cautionary tales section:

Be clear about customer value – When drone business service providers talk publicly about the differentiation of drones, you’ll often hear them say: “It’s all about the data.” But one of the lessons learned from the early adopters of drones in construction is that it isn’t just about the data. It’s about getting good information that provides value for the construction or architectural firm. So whether teams are collaborating around one daily map for a construction site as “the single source of truth,” or providing floor-by-floor visualization views for a future building site, the ultimate goal is to provide valuable information for downstream customers—and drones alone cannot do that. What drones can do is offer a much quicker way of capturing different types of data, digitizing it, and making it something you can analyze immediately or over time to support construction variance analysis.”

What resources does it provide?

The 10-page report provides a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) for evaluating and designing your drone program and comes with an appendix that includes links to valuable online resources such as attorneys, advocacy groups, training & certification, and waivers & authorizations.

I believe this is the perfect time to get your start using drones in the construction industry like hundreds of firms worldwide have done. 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.

Five Valuable Lessons about Drone Use in Public Safety

We just released a new research report titled “Five Valuable Business Lessons Learned About Drones in Public Safety and First Responder Operations.” This is the fifth and final 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 built 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 this new report, we validate how first responders are sending unmanned aerial vehicles into high-risk or remote emergency situations before putting first responders at risk while helping victims more efficiently. We detail best practices for how police, fire, emergency response, and search & rescue agencies can implement drones into their operations. Learn both the strategies and roadblocks to the successful use of drones in this industry, including:

  • Which licenses are required for employees flying drones
  • How to pick the right drone for your specific operation
  • The importance of a roadmap for training and drone maintenance
  • How to deal with the public in a safe and transparent manner
  • When to outsource drone work

Here is an excerpt from the white paper:

Lesson 3 – Training is multifaceted and should not be an afterthought:

“Buying a drone and training go hand-in-hand.  DJI Director of Education Romeo Durscher recommends thorough training on several topics. This includes basic training—as in Part 107 pilot training and “stick time” on the controls of your aircraft of choice—and advanced training for tactical use, e.g., learning the best way to manage the drone before, during, and after deployment.

Gene Robinson (and the Drone Pilot training team) include these and add additional layers of training gleaned from his years of experience as head of Unmanned Aircraft Operations for the Wimberley Fire Department. Some of those experiences and lessons learned are outlined in a white paper on the 2015 Texas Memorial Day flood.  That paper reports that drones—and at one point 16 manned aircraft—were used for disaster relief for multiple days, but not without problems. Problems included multiple rogue manned and unmanned aircraft being operated within the temporary flight restriction, the loss of communication abilities via cell, the line-of-sight problems with handheld aviation radios, and the inability to request FAA approval to operate in the area.”

The report goes on to describe what many police, fire, and emergency responders have learned about what works and what doesn’t. It details mistakes early adopters have made operating their drones and recommends the actions you should take so your implementation and ongoing use is successful.

You can watch a short video here and 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: EENA

Five Skills You Need to Succeed in the Commercial Drone Market

These days it seems just about anyone can get an FAA Section 333 Exemption that allows them to legally use small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) for commercial purposes in the U.S.  As of October 20, 2015, almost 71% of all Section 333 grants have gone to firms claiming that their primary operation/mission is Film/Photo/Video (and most claim multiple uses).  This includes companies that are using drones for movies, as well as for art and real estate, among other things. Inspection and Monitoring has seen the second highest issuance rate, at 31%, while Mapping and Surveying for land and commercial construction, rounds out the top three at 20%.

Looking further into the data, AUVSI reports that at least 84% — and perhaps as many as 94.5%– of all approved companies are small businesses. While we don’t agree with their astronomical forecast (see our write-up here), we concur with this analysis.

But here’s the catch.  With the bar so low for starting a commercial drone service, what’s the guarantee these businesses will succeed? According to Bloomberg, eight out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. A whopping 80% crash and burn. So given the risk, it makes sense to assess which markets and use cases provide the best chance of success, the skills you’ll need, and the value-add services you should be offering those markets.

Here are five services we think you should consider offering as part of your commercial drone business:

  1. $ – Video
  2. $$ – Mapping
  3. $$$ – Photogrammetry
  4. $$$$ – LiDAR
  5. ??? – Spectral imaging

I’ve put dollar signs next to each service and listed them in progression to represent both the skill and value each has for potential customers. Notice I’ve got question marks there by spectral imaging.  That’s because the jury is still out on whether there is a solid ROI on this service vs. that provided by manned aircraft for precision agriculture.  Precision agriculture often gets touted as the #1 place where “drones will transform the world” but the hard reality is this is a specialized application and a very complex market.  (I have written about this extensively and you can find some very important details in a post I wrote more than a year ago called Film or Farm: Which is Largest Drone Market – Part 2?)

Skill 1 – Video

Now some of you may be wondering why I included video on my list.  We often see drone video footage on YouTube and think it’s cool. But the hard fact is commercial buyers of drone video services have a much higher standard.  So you will, too, if you want to make money in the Film/Photo/Video market.

By now you know shooting good drone video starts with selecting the right drone, the right camera, with the right lens, mounted on the right gimbal.  It’s not a secret any drone enthusiast can go out and buy a DJI Phantom Vision 3 for about $1,200 and shoot 4K video. But just because you can fly it and press the ‘record’ button does not make you a professional aerial videographer.  There is much more to it than that. For one, shooting good video requires you to be skilled in the basics of:

  • Shots (FOV, framing, perspective)
  • Moves (pan, tilt, truck, dolly, etc.)
  • Technique (zoom, action, follow, etc.)

For another, there is timeline editing.  What are you going to do with all that footage?  Hand it to the customer raw?  You could, but it’s better to have it edited or least know how it’s done so you can offer assistance or more services.  For that, you will need to be skilled at:

  • Storytelling / sequencing
  • Cuts
  • Transitions
  • Graphics
  • Lighting
  • Color grading

These aren’t all the things you need to know but if you don’t know these I suggest you get some basic film-school training and offer a better service than the kid next door with a quadcopter and a GoPro.

Skill 2 – Mapping

In researching drones and aerial photography and mapping, you might find yourself coming across new terms. One of the basic ones you should know is “orthomosaic photo” or “orthophotos.”  Orthophotos (aka ‘orthos’) are basically photos that have been stitched together to make a larger one and then corrected.  The technique is not unique to drones.  Orthomosaics have been created by aerial photographers in manned aircraft for years and used by lots of industries.

The point here is if you are not familiar with the techniques and software to create orthos, then I recommend you acquaint yourself with it because it is a valuable service for which customers in the Mapping / Surveying market will pay handsomely. There are even drone apps that automate the whole process like DroneDeploy and Pix4D.

Skill 3 – Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry is a technique which uses photography to measure the environment. This is achieved through overlapping imagery; where the same site can be seen from two perspectives, it is possible to calculate measurements. Again, this technique is not unique to drone imagery, but there is some good news here.  Off-the-shelf software, like Agisoft PhotoScan and SimActive, is plentiful and fairly easy to learn.

The hard part is providing your customer with valuable measurement information.  And the harder part is competing with firms that have been offering this service for years now using ground-based systems combined with aircraft.  For this, you will need some specialized skills and will need to be certified so that you are recognized. One way to get certification is through the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS).

An ASPRS Certified Photogrammetrist is a professional who uses photogrammetric technology to extract measurements and make maps and interpret data from images. The Photogrammetrist is responsible for all phases of mapping and other mensuration requirements, which include planning and supervising survey activities for control, specifying photography or other imagery requirements, managing projects for mapping or other mensuration requirements and interpretation. You can find more information on their programs here.

Skill 4 – LiDAR

LiDAR drones are fairly new as the units have become smaller and lightweight.  But LiDAR is not new to surveyors and engineers.  They’ve been using ground-based and airborne LiDAR scanning units for years.

The good news is LiDAR drones are great for scanning small areas like building sites and getting in hard-to-reach areas like under bridges.  In this way they provide a significant cost advantage over aircraft or helicopters with LiDAR units and have the greatest margin potential as a service for the Inspection / Monitoring market.

You can get trained and become a Certified LiDAR Technologist (CLT) through ASPRS.  A CLT is technician who performs routine LiDAR collection support and first-level data processing integrating established plans and procedures.  Find information on that here.

Skill 5 – Spectral Imaging

I put this here last because, as I mention earlier, it’s not clear whether drones provide a significant cost savings to the buyer vs. the same service provided by manned aircraft for the Precision Agriculture market.  There are ROI studies being done now, but most people who provide this service will tell you that farmers aren’t willing to pay much for this service.  Why spend $4 to $5 per acre for you to fly a drone overhead and deliver a normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) map unless there is a clear return on that investment?  Some will – like growers of high-margin crops like fruits and nuts – but most won’t. Again, this is a competitive market that demands a lot of knowledge about precision agriculture and remote sensing techniques.

I would to hear your thoughts on these skills.  Send me your comments or write us colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: Shutterstock

5 Tips on Finding a Good Drone Attorney

By Jonathan Rupprecht, Esq. for Drone Analyst

In response to the rapidly growing drone industry, there are now many attorneys and law firms that are seeing an opportunity to make money and are offering drone legal services as a part of their regular practice areas.  Although many of these attorneys and/or firms may have experience in their regular and specific legal fields, they most likely are just trying to get into this new legal field area (“get their feet wet”) by offering a new drone practice group with drone legal services. How can you find an experienced drone attorney that will best serve your drone legal needs as opposed to an attorney who is just trying to dabble in the drone area? Here are five tips to find an attorney to best help with your needs:

1. Find out how many 333 petitions the attorney has filed.

Many attorneys are starting to come into this new legal field. Some of those attorneys have no aviation law knowledge or section 333 experience. If they don’t have any experience, this could cause some problems.  One example is where an inexperienced attorney might charge you more for a petition so they can learn how to do it or to get experience. Another example is that an inexperienced attorney might not be able to rapidly file your 333 petition which means your wait is longer until you can commercially operate.

2. Find out how many of the attorney’s clients are commercially operating now after they received their 333 petition.

This is helpful because it tells you that the attorney has taken a client all the way through the 333 process and the drone registration process. Also, ask for the names of their previous clients who have been approved and are commercially operating. Contact those clients and ask them for their opinion of the attorney and whether they would recommend that attorney.

Another benefit of using an attorney who has clients who are commercially operating is that the attorney is familiar with the “real world” problems commercial operators face, such as the 24-hour NOTAM problem, the 500ft bubble from non-participants, flying within 5 nautical miles of an airport, or flying under the Class C or Class B shelf.

Are there any benefits to using an attorney new to the area? A new attorney might perform exceptional services so that they can get their feet wet and make a name for themselves in the industry. If they are desperate to get experience, you might get a great deal for an exemption. Also, some attorneys new to drone law are very skilled in other areas of the law which you might need help with such as business or tax law.

3. You should find out what the costs will be.

The fees of different law firms range all over the place. The general range of prices I’ve heard of is between $2,500 and $12,000 per petition. Larger law firms sometimes charge more than smaller law firms. Partners charge more than associates. Check out the location where the law firm is located because law firms in fancy buildings have higher overheads costs than firms in more modest buildings. You, not them, are paying the rent for the location.

If they provide you a cost estimate, ask them to break the hours down and also ask them about what they used to arrive at the estimated number of hours. It is a good idea here to get a fixed cost and not have the attorney bill you at an hourly rate which could turn into a black hole for your money. That being said, if you are asking for something that has never been done before, or is a really complex and difficult situation, you are most likely only going to have the option of the attorney billing you hourly.

If the cost is out of your immediate price range, ask them to split the payments up so you don’t have one lump sum. You could maybe negotiate the contract so that 1/3 of the cost is up front, 1/3 is before submission, and 1/3 is upon the petition being completed. You could also ask for a money-back guarantee.

4. Ask who is developing the manuals?

The FAA looks at the manuals you submit for the aircraft and operations to determine if there is an equivalent level of safety as the regulations. Are you going to create the manuals or is the attorney? Some attorneys do not do manuals. This is understandable because they did not go to manual school but law school. Does the attorney have a referral source who can do manuals for you in case you do not have the knowledge to do them? What are those costs?

Also, the FAA is requiring that petitioners asking for closed-set TV/movie filming operations will be required to submit to the FAA a Motion Picture and TV Operating Manual (MPTOM). Does your attorney even know what an MPTOM is or where to get one? Your attorney should explain the benefits of having closed-set TV/movie operations on your exemption and also define what “non-participant” means.

5. Do they have an aviation background?

Finding a good attorney in the area of drone law is not just about getting the 333 petition filed for the lowest price but is also about complying with the federal aviation regulations. A good attorney needs to understand your long-term goals of actually operating under the regulations. Your attorney needs to see the potential problems with your proposed commercial operations and help you decide whether to change your business operations/model or scrap the idea altogether. In one of the Abbot and Costello movies, Costello was asked, “Was your business legal?” His response was, “Better than that. It was profitable!” A good drone attorney can help you be legal AND profitable because they know the aviation sector and how to navigate the regulations.

Another problem with using an attorney that does not know aviation law is that they will most likely not be able to rapidly answer the questions YOU need answered so that you can make money. The attorney will have to do research to give you an answer because they are unfamiliar with the regulations or restrictions. You want an attorney who you can call or text who can rapidly give you answers regarding commercially operating under your exemption. Who better to do that than the individual who also filed your petition and helped you in determining the most economically feasible area?

It is best to do your research before hiring a drone attorney. Hopefully these tips should save you time and money when searching for the right attorney who can help serve your specific drone legal needs.

If you have questions about this or the commercial drone market comment below or write us info@droneanalyst.com.

 

Diversity and Hype in Commercial Drone Market Forecasts

This post also appears in The Market section of sUAS News.

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Have you noticed the growing number of market forecasts for the commercial drones industry?  I have.  Not a week goes by that a new one doesn’t hit my radar.  I’m currently tracking about 15 [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][41 as of 6/27/2016].  Each in one way or another delivers growth projections for the drone or unmanned aerial system (UAS) sector that are nothing short of phenomenal.  But are they, really?

In this post, I’m going to share three secrets to help you understand forecasts better, unpack the hype and diversity of market reports, and hopefully leave you skilled enough to ‘cry foul’ when you see a new report that is, well, questionable. At the end, I’ll give you my personal take on the most popular forecast reports.

THREE SECRETS

  1. All forecasts are wrong

No one argues that forecasts and market projections are a critical part of business planning, management, and strategy.  However, the first thing you learn as a forecaster (I was one) is that forecasts are always wrong – it’s just a matter of how wrong. You also learn that the further out in time you forecast (1 year vs. 10 years), the greater the error. And while that might sound gloomy, it is reality, and if you are looking to start or invest in a commercial drone business and you are relying on these forecasts, you should recognize an important trap.

Proper forecasts are created by taking actuals (historical unit sales, purchases, revenue, etc.) and projecting forward in time some kind of trend – either flat, up, or down. Statisticians know that the more historical data you have the greater likelihood your projection will be accurate. But what happens when there is no history to go by?  Such is the case with the commercial drones market.  It’s a nascent industry, and we have little to no historical data.  So here’s the trap. Forecasters have to either borrow historical data from a similar industry or size a market potential with a proxy.

But sometimes the proxy is wrong. Such is the case with the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) The Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the United States. It has become the most repeated forecast for the commercial drone market, garnering media attention typically reserved for celebrity weddings and babies born to royalty.  Its bottom line forecast is that the UAS market will reach a whopping $82 billion in the 10 years after the FAA issues favorable regulations and that the precision agriculture market will “dwarf all others.” But as we’ve dissected in Five Reasons the AUVSI Got Its Drone Market Forecast Wrong (and subsequently here and here) the proxy, the methodology, and the conclusion is wrong – very wrong.

That’s sad — and a big disservice to the community. Venture investors have a huge variety of questions about the commercial drone market, but two questions stand out in terms of their importance.  The first is: What is hype and what is reality?  The second is: Is this market really a big, high-growth, high-margin market?  If you rely solely upon media hype and AUVSI, your answer would be an unequivocal Yes. The commercial drone market is the biggest, highest growth, best new market opportunity to come along in decades (or maybe centuries…). Really?!

  1. Regulations raise uncertainty

In some markets, traditional forecasting methods just don’t work. Such is the case with the regulated markets. Commercial drones are and will continue to operate in a regulated market – regulated not in the sense that governments are setting price floors or ceilings, but rules that allow or disallow certain commercial activities – like what airspace you can operate in and whether you can operate beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). (For more on the BVLOS issue see article here.)

Even so, the global drone industry has not sat back waiting for government policy to be hammered out before pouring investment and effort into new ventures. The latest data from CB Insights shows drone startup funding is hitting new highs. Firms have raised more in 2015 than the last three years combined.

The problem is many of those funded vendors are beginning to invest in drone technology (like BVLOS automation) which may take years to be legal. Additionally, some investment is in consumer drone manufacturers that may want to aggressively target specific commercial sectors through acquisitions, internal development, partnerships, and second-tier investment but do so without regard to an actual intended commercial product and/or application. It looks good in a headline, but the devil really is in the detail, as I have noted in FAA Proposed Drone Rules: Market Opportunity Winners and Losers.

  1. Some segments are indistinct

With the advancement of model aircraft and camera technology, it’s not easy to distinguish between a consumer drone and a commercial drone.  For example, low-cost camera drones like the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ and 3DR IRIS+ are sold as consumer products, but marketed to and purchased by professionals who use them for commercial purposes like aerial photography, film making, and videography. Add to this trend the growing number of vendors like Pix4D that provide integrated software specifically for mapping and modeling, and now you have surveyors and geographic information system (GIS) professionals using them in their practices.

So what’s the buyer of a market forecast to do? The report says “commercial” but how can they distinguish the size of the particular market you intend to service or invest in if so many drones are sold for hobby but then used for business? Sorry, I don’t have a happy answer for you. It’s virtually impossible in every case to delineate the difference between the consumer and commercial drones market. If you want to come close a rational number, then you are going to have dissect the numbers yourself and make assumptions about your market based on things like gating factors that drive adoption rates, competing technology, and the price elasticity of incumbent providers. You can factor aircraft sales, but I wouldn’t use it as the base for a market forecast.

THE ROUNDUP

Here’s my take on the most popular forecasts. Note that several of these are sold by resellers.

BI Intelligence – has a 32-page report for subscribers (~$400) that forecasts total cumulative drone spending over the next 10 years (2015 to year-end 2024) of $111 billion. It also forecasts that $15 billion of that will be spent on commercial/civilian applications, including R&D costs, software, and hardware. But looking into the numbers it basically recycles AUVSI’s bogus numbers and then ups the Teal Group’s already inflated (and out of touch) forecast.

ABI research – has a research report available to subscribers that says the small UAS market will surpass $8.4 billion by 2018 and by 2019 the commercial sector will dominate the overall small UAS market with revenues exceeding $5.1 billion, roughly five times larger than the prosumer/hobby market, and 2.3 times greater than the military/civil market segment. I respect the work of this firm, but as you can see from the graph in this article they consider prosumer as part of hobby and not commercial as would be relevant. Still, I agree with Dan Kara: “The money to be made is actually in the application space to a large degree.”  So why don’t they forecast that as a segment of commercial?

Markets and Markets – sells a 180+ page report on the commercial drones market by type, technology, application, and geography for $4,560. They expect the global market for small UAS to reach $1.9 billion by the end of 2020. They state the obvious and say the increase in civil and military applications remains the driving factor for the global small UAV market. They go on to say that among all the key applications (law enforcement, energy and power, manufacturing, infrastructure, media and entertainment, agriculture, and scientific research) law enforcement will hold the largest market share at ~25%. My research says the opposite it true – at least in the U.S. That’s because adoption by local and state police agencies here already is and will continue to be fraught with controversy over privacy and Fourth Amendment rights.

Idate Research – sells a $2,300 54 page report with a forecast covering 2014 to 2020 for commercial and consumer drones. They predict that once a suitable regulatory framework is introduced and no significant disruption takes place, nearly 170,000 commercial drones will be operating across the globe by the end of 2020, alongside about 12 million hobby drones.  It’s hard to tell how they arrive at these numbers since their methodology is primarily qualitative, e.g., obtained from one-on-one interviews and not quantitative or established by cross-referencing public sources and external databases.

Lux Research – has a report available to subscribers that says the commercial UAV market will grow to $1.7 billion by 2025 but will be held back by regulations.  It also says that agriculture tops applications and will generate $350 million in revenues in 2025, led by uses in precision agriculture. It envisions utilities to be the second biggest segment at $269 million, and oil and gas third at $247 million. Right off the bat you can discount their numbers since it’s been established over and over that agriculture will not lead the market. Clearly they have not researched thoroughly this or other markets like GIS. Also, their overall number is quite low. DJI is projected to sell above $1 billion in consumer drones in 2015. Given the market tendency for these to be used commercially you can see their 2025 number is not rational.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As you can see there is a wide disparity of assumptions and time horizons – which is why I didn’t create a comparison table.  And you can see some of these reports are quite expensive. Will you get an ROI from them?  Perhaps. But in some cases the best advice may be that of Will Rogers: “The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your back pocket.”

I would to hear your thoughts on these market forecasts.  Send me your comments or write us colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: Shutterstock[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Which is Better: Open Source or Proprietary Drone Software?

Just like Google vs. Apple

When the Apple iPad first appeared on the market in 2010, I didn’t jump in to buy one. I didn’t own an iPhone, I had a company-issued Blackberry, so I wasn’t motivated. Besides, I figured there would be a better model a year or so later. So I waited. By the time Apple released the iPad 2 in 2011 all my friends had one. It looked and felt great in the hand. I thought the user interface (UI) was pretty slick. But I also heard about this thing called Android in development by Google and the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) with a similar and perhaps better UI. I was conflicted about which to buy first. I eventually got an Android tablet on the promise of what could be an open source model. However, after one disappointing experience after another, I got rid of it and switched a year later to an iPad first generation. I stayed on that path and haven’t looked back since.

As Diffen says:

Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS are operating systems that provide a good example of open source vs. proprietary. Both are used primarily in mobile technology, such as smartphones and tablets. Android, which is Linux-based and partly open source, is more PC-like than iOS, in that its interface and basic features are generally more customizable from top to bottom. However, iOS’ uniform design elements are sometimes seen as being more user-friendly.

But wait, I thought we were going to discuss drone software. We are.

For all drones, the interaction between the user and the aircraft, and the aircraft and its hardware is mediated by software. As I have written here, the quality of the pilot experience can be driven by the features and the quality of implementation, but the comparison with tablet and smartphones is a good one. Just as with your smartphone and tablet systems, choosing the wrong software platform for your drone can produce some very high switching costs should you decide later you need to change. In this post, I’m going to look beyond manufacturers’ claims and help you understand the differences with the following explanations of what is it, who makes it, who uses it, and what you need to know.

Open Source Drone Software – the Google Android model

What is it?
The term open source refers to software whose source code — the medium in which programmers create and modify software — is freely available on the Internet. By contrast, the source code for proprietary commercial software is usually a closely guarded secret. The most well-known example of open source software is the Linux operating system, but there are open source software products available for every conceivable purpose.

Open source software is distributed under a variety of licensing terms, but almost anyone can modify the software to add capabilities not envisaged by its originators. Most often the software originator or distributor declare a group off standards or technology specifications and make them widely available, allowing many companies to create products that will work interchangeably and be compatible with each other. One such standard is an Application Programming Interface (API). An API is a feature of a software application that allows other software to interoperate with it, automatically invoking its functionality and exchanging data with it.

Who makes it?
The best example of an open source software product for drones is 3DRobotics’ ArduPilot Mega or ‘APM.’ APM is the leading open source auto-piloting software. It’s billed as the first universal autopilot, which means it enables same hardware to provide fully autonomous control to a multitude of vehicles, from multicopters and traditional helicopters to fixed-wing planes and even ground rovers. APM is a full UAV autopilot, which means it supports both piloted and unpiloted (fully autonomous) flight, including hundreds of GPS waypoints, camera control, and auto-takeoff and landing.

At a recent small unmanned systems business expo in San Francisco, Chris Anderson said his company 3DRobotics and its ecosystem of partners are in the process of “Building the Android of UAVs.” He compared the APM firmware, software, and its partners with the Android operating system open source software stack. You can watch that presentation here beginning at 3:51:40.

Parrot, maker of the AR. Drone, Bebop and parent of Sensefly and Pix4D is another open source vendor. They have an older open API platform with shared source code released under the terms of the AR.Drone License. You can read about their software development kit (SDK) here.

OpenPilot is another widely used open source UAV autopilot created by the OpenPilot Community (an all volunteer non-profit community). They boast there are no hard-coded settings and an extensible flight plan scripting language. OpenPilot was started at the beginning of 2010 and was aimed at civilian and research purposes, but its emphasis has been on making the platform especially suitable for aerial photography and aerial video applications. The OpenPilot forums can be found here.

Who uses it?
Thousands of hobbyists and researchers, but very few commercial drone operators – at least not yet.

What do you need to know?
Pros – The common theme of “openness” in the above definitions is the ability of diverse parties to create technology that interoperates. When evaluating your drone business’ current and anticipated software needs, a software solution’s capability to interoperate is an important criterion. To extend the value of your physical aircraft investment, you may want to select a software solution that is based on open standards and APIs that facilitate interoperability and has the capability for direct integration between various vendors’ products.

APM offers this, plus some great features like point-and-click programming/configuration, multiple command modes, failsafe programming options in the event of lost control signal or low battery conditions, camera gimbal control and stabilization, some limited real-time telemetry and data logging, and of course, APIs to third-party software and hardware.

Cons – Like the early versions of Android, the APM interface and basic features are generally more customizable. That means ‘partial assembly required’ for commercial use. In other words, you’ll need to tap a community of engineers to determine the compatible components and integration possibilities if you want extended capabilities like the support of large heavy-lift multirotors. Granted, 3DRobotics has made progress with the release of its IRIS quadcopter, which contains the Pixhawk open source hardware unit. While Pixhawk with its 32-bit architecture, faster processor, more memory, etc., is shaping up to be the successor to earlier APM-supported hardware, it’s still not quite ready for multi-duty aircraft where you need to hot swop configurable sensors. Other companies will need to aggregate more reliable components on top of Pixhawk or wait for the next generation of APM to accomplish that.

Proprietary Drone Software – the Apple iOS Model

What is it?
Proprietary software, or closed-source software, is drone software licensed under exclusive legal right of the copyright holder with the intent that the licensee is given the right to use the software only under certain conditions, and restricted from other uses, such as modification, sharing, studying, redistribution, or reverse engineering. Usually the source code of proprietary software is not made available.

Vendors typically distribute proprietary software in compiled form, usually the machine language understood by the drone’s central processing unit. They typically retain the source code, or human-readable version of the software, written in a higher-level programming language. By withholding source code, the software producer prevents the user from changing how it works. This practice is denounced by some critics, who argue that users should be able to study and change the software they use, for example, to modify unwanted features, or fix malfunctioning vulnerabilities.

Who makes it?
Just about everybody other than 3DRobotics and AR.Drone. Examples of commercial-grade software embedded in small drones include: PrecisionHawk, Draganfly, and Aeryon, to name a few.

Who uses it?
Thousands of civil and public small UAS operators and a few hobbyists worldwide.

What do you need to know?
Pros — The fact is, proprietary source is better than open source in certain situations — like when you want a turnkey hardware / software solution to support a commercial sUAS service such as mapping, agriculture, or industrial inspection. Just know that you will pay more and be limited to the improvement roadmap of a single vendor.

Some of the other benefits are less apparent.

Tech support. First, you’ll never have to fix inherent problems when something goes wrong. With any software, things occasionally go wrong. When this happens with open source software, you, or an engineer who owes you a favor, may need to spend time debugging the problem. This entails reading through code, working with an open source community, or your open source support provider, and applying a fix. With closed source, on the other hand, once you determine that the problem lies in your vendor’s code, you’re all done! All you have to do is file a ticket and wait. It can take some time to decide whether you want Service Level Agreement (SLA) support with guaranteed response times, or if you feel comfortable posting issues on forums or doing your own support. With closed source, you pretty much never have to worry about where you’re going to get support. Sure, you might not ever get to speak to an actual engineer, but at least you always know who to call. Sure, you may have to wait for the next software release version for the fix, and sometimes it never comes at all, but there’s nothing you can do about that. Just kick back, relax, and hope for the best.

Fewer options. Yes, sometimes fewer options is a benefit. With closed source, you don’t have to contend with so many options. You only have to explore two or three large vendors in each market. You can save time. Open source offers lots of solutions when considering a motor, electronic speed controller, camera trigger, telemetry downlinks, etc. In practically every category, you can find robust offerings built by a variety of vendors with different architectural approaches. It’s also very common to find similar tools that are optimized for different use cases (e.g., performance versus scalability versus simplicity). To make sure a tool will work best for your particular use case, download it and give it a try.

Cons – In some instances proprietary isn’t the best option. For example, you may want to take advantage of the growing use of the air vehicle communication protocol standard MAVLink. MAVLink has been extensively tested on the open source platforms and serves there as communication backbone for the MCU/IMU communication as well as for Linux interprocess and ground link communication. This protocol has enable companies like DroneDeploy to create a very user-friendly web-based mission planner which allows control of multiple drones. I suspect this protocol will become the de-facto standard in the growing ‘mission planner’ functionality race and proprietary protocols will leave their solutions inadequate.

So, there you have it. A few good reasons why you want to consider closely whether you want your business to use open source or proprietary drone software. Do you have others you’d like to share? Please comment below. If you have questions and would like to discuss further, email me at colin@droneanalyst.com. Cheers.

Image Credit: Shuttestock

Drone Businesses: Three Social Media Platforms You Can’t Afford To Ignore

For some the thought of using Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn for their small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) business seems, well, just wrong. What good are they? Aren’t they just platforms for people who want to share what they had for breakfast? It’s not my audience. These social networks seem like a lot work for very little return – and besides aren’t there better things to do?

I understand. I believed this for many years. The very thought of having to maintain a ‘virtual image’ of my company or myself seemed un-human like, let alone un-business like. But a few years ago I started consulting with small and medium businesses, and my job required me to learn social media and actively participate. At first, I went kicking and screaming. What I saw initially was a lot of experimenting. I didn’t see compelling business content (e.g., the breakfast thing). But that was then. Things are very different now. Not only has the strategic role of online social networks progressed, but the media itself has matured. In that progression I have learned some valuable business lessons.

In this post want to pass on three of those lessons to inspire your participation.

Twitter – It’s been said here that

Twitter is a like huge, successful cocktail party. Groups of people are chatting about different things in different parts of the room. Some are laughing together, some are noting down an interesting book title the person next to them mentioned. One group may be commiserating with someone who just received some bad news, and another is congratulating a guest’s good fortune. You are never the first to arrive nor the last to leave. But when you do leave, you might do so with a few new numbers in your smartphone and a book you want to read.

With 58 million tweets being shared on Twitter daily, and over 190 million unique visitors per month1, isn’t it time for your sUAS company to join that party? With Twitter, you can either observe or participate in the world-wide drones revolution.  If you decide to participate, then by all means use Twitter to define your brand and generate leads. The more you tweet, the more followers and exposure you will get.

If you decide to join the party, create an account for your business. See this article for 31 Twitter Tips: How To Use Twitter Tools And Twitter Best Practices For Business. Once you’re on – or if you are already on – I invite you follow me @droneanalyst and follow the people I follow.  See what we have to say. Search on #drones or #UAS or #UAV and discover who else is at the party. (By the way, those “#” symbols are called hashtags and are a great way to tag your tweets and/or search on other tweets whose content includes that hashtag.)

While at the party, you’ll find an article or two on the latest drone application – like precision agriculture, or positive use cases like a successful search and rescue mission, or even a university research project you might want to participate in. You will learn about the latest FAA delay or the latest legal battle.  The good fortune you will find is a company’s latest product release – like a cool new piece of software, or that lightweight LIDAR you’ve been waiting for. Twitter is “the” place where all this is happening and much more. For the UAS industry and many other emerging businesses, these innovations are being tweeted about at breakneck speeds. Join now or fall behind.

Facebook – Take a look at this infographic. At last count, Facebook has 1.15 billion users and about 700 million daily users. The average visit is over 20 minutes. That’s a lot of time on one website. But the richness of Facebook is not the volume– it’s the connection between local people and businesses. Consider this: 47% of Americans say that Facebook has a greater impact on their purchasing behavior than any other social network, and 50% of users follow their friends’ product and service recommendations.

So why doesn’t your drone business have a Facebook page? Why aren’t you posting regularly? Facebook offers a chance for lots of eyeballs to see you, make a connection, and hear your story. Let’s face it, you need to tell your story and connect with a broader audience if you want new business. That’s what Facebook offers. Pssst, it’s free mass marketing.

What kind of information should you post on your page? Well, for one, give your audience a behind-the-scenes glimpse of your company: Think theater, applied to content. You need to answer the question of what your audience will find interesting, compelling, and useful. The strength of this type of information is that it doesn’t need to be created in the same format as the rest of your marketing content. In fact, it’s often better if it’s not. Post an informative article you learned about at the Twitter party. Pictures of your employees are good. A post pointing to a YouTube video is even better.  Important though–keep posts simple. Don’t jam a lot of content and text together. Think headlines that attract attention. You need to get above the noise and the latest cat video post.

LinkedIn – If Twitter is the cocktail party, then LinkedIn is the dinner party. This is where real connection and deeper conversation happens. At its core, LinkedIn is your resume online. That resume or ‘profile’ contains your schooling, work history, and business experience. Think of it as your ‘virtual business self’. Your profile is the window through which others perceive you. Your profile provides others context and gives you credibility, and you need both if you want others to connect with you and trust you.

However, be careful not to sit on your laurels. Just because you are on LinkedIn and it shows you were in the aerospace industry or in the military and worked on UAVs it does not mean that people understand your business acumen. In fact, probably just the opposite is true. You have to prove your acumen for civilian UAS application, and the way to do it is by joining groups. Groups allow you start discussions and comment on others’ discussions. Just as in Facebook, people will ‘follow’ you if you prove you have something salient to offer.

These days, there is a lot lively conversation about unmanned aerial vehicles and systems on LinkedIn and you don’t want to miss it. Many of the UAV / UAS industry groups are private, so you have to ‘ask’ to join the group.  Here are a few groups I recommend you join:

  • Unmanned Systems Network
  • UAV Entrepreneurs
  • UAV Industry

There’s a lot more to say about using social platforms to grow your small business, but this is a good start. If you have questions and would like to discuss further, email me at colin@droneanalyst.com. I’m here to help. Otherwise I’ll see you online.

Image Credit – Shutterstock

Do FAA Rules Hurt Your Small Drone Business?

Confused by the FAA’s small drone regulations? Feeling choked as a business?

As you know, the FAA declares they govern *all* airspace, even the 400 feet above ground in which you fly everything from a paper airplane to a kite to a remote-controlled kit-built airplane and, yes, your multirotor drone. But FAA regulations are being challenged, as I discussed here.

Given that, I’d like to take the pulse of drone business owners like yourself to assess and quantify the impact of FAA regulations on commercial use of low-altitude small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS). So I’ve posted a survey. If you’d like to speak your mind about this topic and have others listen without fear of recrimination, you’ve come to the right place.

You can access the survey (which is just 15 questions) online via this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/VHKR5FJ

What’s this survey about?

This survey explores the impact that current and future FAA regulations have on commercial use of low-altitude small unmanned aerial systems. The study is designed to expose both business sentiment about- and the economic impact of- FAA regulations.

I’ll keep results of the survey confidential and have designed it for those businesses that sell, operate, or intend to operate, their sUAS in the U.S. for commercial purposes. At the end of survey, responses will be aggregated, analyzed, and summarized in research reports to be issued within the next several months.

What’s in it for you?

If you provide your contact information at the end of the survey, I’ll send you a free report. A complete downloadable version will come later.

For best results we need as many respondents as possible, so I encourage every business involved in the sUAS market – whether established company or start-up – to take the survey.

For all surveys – including this one -there are no right or wrong answers. News agencies, companies, and research firms around the world rely on businesses and consumers like you to give them feedback on the latest trends, consumer sentiment, regulations, and products and services. If agencies created regulations and companies created products and services without consumer feedback, there would be a lot of failed products, wasted money, and failed businesses.

That is why they engage with companies like Drone Analyst to seek input from real consumers like you. We take your one opinion and combine it with hundreds of other opinions to create aggregate data. That data goes into research reports that help them create better regulations and products. Aggregate data is valuable in providing feedback to all parties – including you and your business. Your individual answers are confidential and are not shared in reports. Respondents who want to assure their anonymity further need not provide their contact information.

How to take surveys

Take the time to read each question carefully and provide sincere and truthful answers– your input is key to decision-making. Remember: Your answers are private. Any attempt to speed though the surveys, take a survey more than once or provide false or misleading information will result in bad data and unreliable conclusions.

And, if you have questions and would like to discuss one-on-one, email me at colin@droneanalyst.com

Image credit: Shutterstock