US drone companies have gained significant ground in recent years. These companies include American Robotics, which in January 2021 became the first company to be approved by the FAA to operate automated drones without people on site. DRONELIFE discussed the resurgence of US drone companies and new developments in autonomous flight with Reese Mozer, CEO of American Robotics.
The New Focus on Commercial Drones: Changing the Game for US Drone Companies
Recent political pressures on Chinese-made technologies, including drone technologies, are having a significant impact on the drone industry. However, according to Mozer, this is not the main driver behind the resurgence of US drone companies. Although US manufacturers like 3DR found it hard to compete on price with Chinese manufacturing in the industry’s earlier days, the game has now changed.
“First, it’s important to break down consumer, commercial, and military drones into three very separate categories when it comes to functionality and price,” says Mozer. “Although products are referred to as ‘drones’ in all three countries, they ultimately differ greatly in terms of the scope, size and application of the technology. Foreign companies like DJI have had tremendous success in the first category, Consumer, where functionality is relatively limited and prices are low. “
“These days we are seeing the greatest growth in the trade category, which has historically lagged the other two due to a number of factors including regulations and the increased need for autonomy. These challenges, including higher value propositions and corresponding price tolerance from commercial customers, enable US manufacturers to become more competitive, ”said Mozer.
New innovations change the market
At least part of the reason for the rise of U.S. drone companies and the commercial drone sector is that new innovations enable breakthrough FAA exemptions and new, expanded commercial activity. American Robotics’ recent victory with the FAA of flying with no visual observers (VOs) on site represents a significant change in the value proposition for many commercial and industrial applications.
Getting the waiver wasn’t easy. “In the last hundred years, humans have been constantly present during the flight and ultimately the primary failsafe if something goes wrong,” says Mozer. “To shift this responsibility to software and hardware, a number of technological innovations had to be developed, tested, and appropriately reported to FAA regulators.”
The American Robotics Scout ™ was specifically designed to meet the safety requirements for automated flight, explains Mozer. “For example, the Scout System ™ includes several novel mitigations, including proprietary detect-and-avoid (DAA) sensors and algorithms, advanced automated system diagnostics and failafes, automated pre-flight checks, and automated flight path management. If something deviates from the expected, safe operating plan, our drone systems immediately take corrective action, e.g. B. Change of flight course and return to base station.
“By developing a layered, redundant security system that incorporates these proprietary technical and operational mitigations, we have proven that the drone-based Aerial Intelligence platform works securely in the NAS, even when flights are conducted out of sight (BVLOS) as well of the operator as well as of all people on site. “
The effects of flying without VOs
“The economics behind paying an on-site visual observer or pilot to monitor a drone flight just doesn’t make sense today and has seriously affected the ability of commercial users to justify building a drone program,” says Mozer. “It’s important to remember that flying a drone once or twice a year has little to no value for the vast majority of commercial use cases. Typically, to see the benefits of drone-based data collection, flights need to be made several times a day indefinitely to cover enough area, survey with an adequate solution, and spot problems as they arise. “
“Today, the average hourly rate to hire a drone pilot in the US is around $ 150 and can go as high as $ 500 an hour. Overcoming the labor costs associated with commercial use of drones has been one of the major barriers to the marketplace and has affected the viability and large-scale implementation of this technology. “
How will this change the demand for drone technology?
“It’s hard to exaggerate how much we assume that this will change demand,” says Mozer. “In the commercial realm, we are still scratching the surface of what is possible and how this technology is integrated and scaled. In most cases, the last decade of commercial drones in use can be described as an ongoing test phase during which customers repeatedly stop investing in large-scale drone rollouts for the reasons outlined above. “
“Until people no longer have to participate in on-site operations, it is difficult in most scenarios to advocate for drones. Imagine every time a logistics robot moved across the warehouse floor, a human had to follow it, holding hands on a controller and fixing their eyes. Ultimately, our industry’s product is data, not airplanes. With real automation comes the ability to capture a new category of data that was previously not possible and, as a result, a new category of valuable analysis and insight. “
Miriam McNabb is editor-in-chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For advice or writing in the drone industry, email Miriam.
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