By SWM Staff
Drones—or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—provide several business opportunities for commercial entities across many vertical markets.
According to recent research from WinterGreen Research, Commercial Drones: Highways in the Sky, Commercial Unmanned Aerial Systems, Market Shares, Strategies, and Forecasts, Worldwide, 2015-2021, the market is projected to reach 4.8 billion USD by 2021. This is from a prior value of 609 million USD in 2014. According to the research, the market is expected to grow on account of its ability to be utilized for various applications like agriculture, oil and gas mapping, packaging delivery, and utility line inspection.
The opportunity for UAVs is currently being defined. However, its growth is already in the works. As the specifics of class and application are addressed by various entities—including government agencies as well as manufacturers and technology users—early adopters pave the way with innovative use cases. Behind it all, software providers target commercial applications with management software that helps manage, automate, and report on the activities fostered by UAV activity to ensure compliance and safety as well as to generate data and insights.
There are many ways to segment UAVs, including by size, type, and application. While many organizations have set classifications and tiers to refer to, there is no universal system. Depending on the source, drones are grouped by features such as weight or altitude range.
In addition to specification classifications, UAVs are grouped by their target application. Three very different applications for drones include consumer, commercial, and military. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) refers to UAVs using the term Unmanned Aircraft System—or UAS, which it defines as the unmanned aircraft (UA) as well as all of the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications, and navigation equipment necessary to operate the UA.
The FAA refers to the UA as the flying portion of the system, flown by a pilot via a ground control system, or autonomously through use of an on-board computer, communication links, and any additional equipment that is necessary for the UA to operate safely. “The FAA issues an experimental airworthiness certificate for the entire system, not just the flying portion of the system,” according to its website.
The FAA also classifies three different types of operations including public/governmental, civil/non-governmental, and model aircraft/hobby or recreational only. Commercial applications for UAVs are used for a variety of applications, including logistics, agriculture, aerial photography, and data collection.
While the details on UAS flying restrictions are in the process of being worked out by the FAA, these devices have a range of possible uses for the commercial enterprise.
“The potential for drones is enormous,” suggests Darr Gerscovich, SVP marketing, DroneDeploy. “We will reach a point when there will be at least one drone in every job site,” he predicts. “The commercial drone industry is nascent, yet experiencing explosive growth. This is because drones have already proven themselves to be safer, more efficient, cheaper, and faster than their human counterparts within many scenarios across various verticals.”
Marcos Osorno, CTO, Skyward iO, says the opportunity for UAVs varies by industry, but in general they are great for any industrial application where you need to put someone up on a ladder, bucket truck, or even instead of renting a helicopter. “For example, in the telecommunications sector, Talon Aerolytics is providing efficiencies by inspecting thousands of cellular towers throughout the U.S. at a place that would have been impossible with ground crews. In construction and wind power, LIFT technologies is able to inspect wind turbines without having to worry about the moving blades injuring a climber or inspector.”
The entertainment industry, specifically film, television, and video are early adopters of the technology.
Osorno says many have expanded beyond entertainment, utilizing UAVs for services that range from real estate videography to industrial inspections. “Other early adopters have been in aerial imaging for quite some time. For example, Keystone Aerial has been providing enterprise grade professional imaging for years using manned airplanes and has added drones to supplement their existing services,” he shares.
According to Gerscovich, based on its users, the leading industry verticals putting UAVs to work today include agriculture, construction, and mining. He says these verticals have very clear use cases, which can be addressed with existing drone technology. “For example, a drone is more efficient, thorough, and faster at crop scouting a large farm than a human,” he offers.
The Role of Software
UAV software platforms help automate drone flight and data capture, manage infrastructure by minimizing the number of UAVs staffed by a commercial entity, and ensure safety and compliance with a system of record.
“Enterprises ranging from large supply chain companies to utilities are testing drones in their organizations,” suggests Osorno. He says commercial management software helps these organizations manage their R&D operations and navigate compliances with regulations set by offices such as the FAA.
He believes that running a business of any size requires specialized software tailored to meet the needs of that industry. “Regulators often require evidence of management systems during inspections and insurers offer discounts to companies that use commercial management software.”
“Software is key to growing and delivering value to the commercial drone market,” suggests Gerscovich. He says that the majority of businesses leveraging drones today are using relatively off-the-shelf drones as opposed to custom-made ones. This means the focus has already started to shift towards software.
Osorno points out that commercial management software helps users win large contracts or operate within a large enterprise. “A drone operator must be able to integrate into other operations and safety business processes. Management software allows drone operators and service consumers to collaborate,” he offers.
While the industry is still young, a variety of software providers offer management software for commercial UAVs.
A leading provider of UAV hardware, 3DR is committed to providing great user and developer experiences through its open platform. The company is a founder and supporter of the DroneCode Foundation, an open drone platform and flight code. DroneCode’s resources and governance structure are established to guide and support the worldwide development of consumer and commercial open UAV software.
According to DroneCode’s website, from a high level view, the Dronecode platform could be described as an application ecosystem within the various layers of the stack.
Airware offers complete enterprise drone solutions built on a comprehensive hardware, software, and cloud services platform. Based in San Francisco, CA, the company has gathered a cross-disciplinary team of experts in aerospace, robotics, geospatial, hardware, software, and cloud services.
DroneDeploy is developed to target, analyze, and boost drone performance with its software, featuring specialized tools for various industries including agriculture, construction, and mining.
DroneLogbook supports the commercial UAV industry since its inception and now serves thousands of UAV operators of all sizes with scalable solutions. The solution is developed to reduce the burden of administrative functions and automates tasks such as compliance, flight log file imports, flight documentation attachment, and notifications of maintenance tasks.
Additionally, DroneLogbook offers a private label package. According to the company, this option is used by several key manufacturers, large media firms, educational institutions, logistics firms, energy firms, and insurance providers to support drone operations.
Juniper Unmanned, Inc., a technology company focusing on UAS operations, recently announced the release of its new flight management software solution, Sparrow, which is designed to support commercial UAS programs. Sparrow provides a shared operational picture of a commercial UAS program by placing tracking, management, and reporting at the user’s fingertips. Sparrow’s Web-based portal features an intuitive dashboard and provides a real-time summary of aircraft, flight crews, and overall mission readiness. The software package forms a comprehensive, cloud-based UAS program management solution designed to enhance operational productivity and improve program performance, and to ensure safe, effective, and compliant UAS program operations.
Skyward iO’s drone operations management platform is designed to enable businesses of all sizes to get out of the office and into the air. The company’s validated Airspace Map simplifies complex aviation rules to let users know when it is safe to fly. The solution offers flight planning tools that allow users to collaborate with their crew, illustrate points of interest and hazards, eliminate on-site confusion, and measure distance and radial direction. Further it provides simple log operations with multiple flights, providing one central drone flight logbook for an entire organization, the ability to integrate new aircraft into existing workflow, and compatibility with various manufacturers. Additionally, users can keep comprehensive flight records, track pilot flight hours, and maintain regulatory compliance.
Commercial enterprises always look for ways to reduce labor costs, streamline operations, and improve business data. UAVs solve all of these challenges when properly managed. As the market for these devices unfolds and regulations are defined, new and innovative use cases pave the way for future scenarios. Will we soon see an airborne infrastructure overhead? It’s not unrealistic, especially with the right software at the helm. SW
Jul2016, Software Magazine