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Instant Airspace Authorizations, LAANC, and the Streamlined Future: An Interview with Ben Marcus, CEO of AirMap

AirMap has been making headlines lately with the launch of their app for instant airspace authorizations, so we asked AirMap CEO and Co-Founder Ben Marcus if we could hear more about LAANC, AirMap’s new app for airspace authorizations, and where he sees the industry headed.

About AirMap

AirMap is one of the world’s leading airspace management platforms for drones. Millions of drones, hundreds of drone manufacturers and developers, and hundreds of airspace managers and stakeholders rely on AirMap’s airspace intelligence and services to fly safely and communicate with others in low-altitude airspace.

About Ben Marcus

Ben Marcus is an aviation expert and executive. Prior to AirMap, he co-founded and was CEO of jetAVIVA, the world’s largest light business jet sales company. He started his career as a flight instructor and later became a flight test engineer. He is an FAA-certified Airline Transport Pilot and Flight Instructor with over 4,500 hours of flight experience and ratings in airplanes, helicopters, seaplanes, gliders, and six types of jets.

Ben Marcus, CEO and Co-Founder of AirMap

I hope that today’s regulatory hurdles will be in the rearview mirror well before 2025.

Begin Interview:

UAV Coach: Please describe what AirMap does in one short sentence.

Ben Marcus: We’re an airspace management platform for drones—which means we help drones and their operators fly safely and efficiently.

UAV Coach: How did you first get involved with the drone industry?

Ben Marcus: I’ve always had a passion for aviation. When I was 7, I built my first remote control aircraft, and I spent the first part of my career in manned aviation, working as a flight test engineer and then co-founding JetAVIVA, an airplane sales company.

In 2013, I started thinking about what I wanted to do next. I knew I wanted to take my passion for flight and share it with others. I thought, how can I extend the magic of flight to millions or billions of people in their daily lives? And I became tremendously excited about drones. Drones are already bringing amazing benefits to people and businesses, and we’re only starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible.

When I evaluated the emerging drone ecosystem in its early days, I came to appreciate that the missing element that would help the industry scale was airspace management. AirMap co-founder Greg McNeal and I imagined a platform that could be the connective tissue for drones, delivering situational awareness and helping drones take flight for use cases, from inspections and photography to journalism and delivery.

That’s how AirMap was born.

UAV Coach: What drone(s) do you fly and what camera(s) do you use?

Ben Marcus: Personally, I own a Yuneec Typhoon and a DJI Spark. But one of the best parts of this job is that I get to fly all kinds of drones.

It’s incredible how far drone technology has come in just the few years since we founded AirMap. Today, there are so many more opportunities for first-time pilots to experience flight for themselves.

UAV Coach: Is there anything about the work being done at AirMap that you think is crucial to the future of the drone industry, but many people may not understand or know about?

Ben Marcus: We’re developing technologies for both the next year and the next decade.

AirMap technology will grow and evolve as the drone economy does, serving drones and operators at every altitude and at every degree of automation. Everything we do is part of that, from developing richer data to describe the flying environment, to working with the FAA to automate airspace authorization, to building sophisticated flight planning tools that can consider aircraft performance, terrain, obstacles, winds, and many other elements. The platform is always getting better, and I’m excited to share what we’re working on behind the scenes with the rest of the drone ecosystem.

UAV Coach: Can you tell us more about AirMap’s partnership with the FAA on the Low-Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC)?

Ben Marcus: We’re very excited to share automated authorization with the drone community. With the launch of the LAANC prototype, drone operators can now get digital authorization to fly in just seconds—no need to wait up to 90 days for a waiver. LAANC will change the game for the entire drone ecosystem, and drone businesses everywhere.

Any Part 107 operator can download AirMap’s free iOS or Android apps and get authorization right now at the initial sites participating in the prototype. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), Lincoln Airport (LNK), Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO), and San Jose International Airport (SJC) are all live, as well as the Minneapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZMP), which represents 40 additional airports. You can explore these airports on AirMap or view the list on the FAA’s website.

UAV Coach: How does authorization work?

Ben Marcus: You can request authorization with AirMap with just a tap. It’s integrated with the typical flight planning process in the AirMap mobile app. Once you submit, you get a text message confirming your authorization and you’re ready for takeoff.

With automated authorization, you can get approval to fly in controlled airspace in seconds, up to predetermined altitudes. For flights that need approval from air traffic control, you can request manual authorization, even for flights above those predetermined altitudes, and receive confirmation in 30 days or less. In fact, some of our users have reported that manual authorizations are being approved in as little as a minute.


UAV Coach: Is there a cost associated with LAANC authorization?

Ben Marcus: No. AirMap’s app is free, and anyone can download it now to get started with LAANC authorization.

UAV Coach: Does this mean I no longer need to apply for airspace authorization from the FAA?

Ben Marcus: LAANC is a prototype meant to augment, not replace, the FAA’s manual waiver-and-authorization process. The introduction of LAANC will certainly alleviate the volume of requests for written airspace waivers received by the FAA, but for airspace not yet covered by LAANC, commercial operators will still need to submit a waiver application. But the good news is that if you currently have a waiver to fly in controlled airspace, there is no need to file an additional authorization via LAANC.

UAV Coach: What are the next steps for LAANC?

Ben Marcus: More FAA facilities are expected to offer LAANC authorization in the next few months, with a larger nationwide beta initiative expected in 2018. (The FAA keeps a list of airports participating in the prototype here, and is updating this webpage as facilities go live.)

So LAANC authorization with AirMap is probably coming to an airport near you very soon. We’re looking forward to bringing LAANC authorization to airports across the country, and we hope that we can soon share both automated and manual authorizations with our entire developer community in the near future. We’ll be sharing updates on Twitter and Facebook, and via our blog and email list, so stay tuned—more airports are on the way.

UAV Coach: How is LAANC different between the various LAANC providers (to our knowledge, Skyward is the only other one that’s currently live)?

Ben Marcus: With LAANC, operators get to pick the provider that works best for them. At the same time, providers like AirMap can tailor the user experience, and choose which types of authorization to offer, based on the needs of their users.

I hope that the operator community will be very excited about how easy and accessible authorization is on the AirMap platform. Requests for authorization are integrated directly into your flight plan, submitted with just a tap, and approved in seconds. Any Part 107 pilot with the latest AirMap iOS or Android app can get started with authorization now, even if you’re in the field or responding to a time-sensitive customer request.

With AirMap, you can also apply for manual authorization, so there is more flexibility for pilots that want to fly beyond the predetermined altitudes available for automated authorization. The manual option makes even more airspace available for drone flight.

And to make it easier for you to know exactly where it’s safe to fly, we’ve taken the gridded UAS facility maps, and trimmed them to fit within the controlled airspace in which they apply.

We’ve also combined grids in which the maximum safe altitudes are the same. Pilots can quickly and easily tell if authorization is required, eliminating confusion that can occur when the grid overlaps with airspace that isn’t controlled. You can read more about this on the AirMap blog.


UAV Coach: What are the next steps for LAANC?

Ben Marcus: More FAA facilities are expected to offer LAANC authorization in the next few months, with a larger nationwide beta initiative expected in 2018—so LAANC authorization with AirMap is probably coming soon to an airport near you! We’re looking forward to bringing LAANC authorization to airports across the country, and we hope that we can soon share both automated and manual authorizations with our entire developer community in the near future.

The FAA keeps a list of airports participating in the prototype here, and is updating this webpage as facilities are made available to all of the LAANC providers for authorization. As each new site becomes active on the AirMap platform, we’ll be sharing updates on Twitter and Facebook, so stay tuned—more airports are on the way.

UAV Coach: What are your predictions for the drone industry? Please feel free to answer at length (what you see way down the road, what you see for next year, where you see regulations headed in the U.S. and/or elsewhere, new applications, etc.).

Ben Marcus: We are on the cusp of a complete transformation of our airspace and our economy as drones take flight at scale.

We’re already seeing many enterprises using drones for various remote sensing, industrial inspection, journalism, and public safety tasks, and I expect this sector will continue to grow in 2018 and 2019 as flights above people become more commonplace. In 2019 and 2020, we’ll see more drone deliveries and I hope that most of the airspace will be open to drone operations, even for complex use cases. In 2021 or shortly thereabouts, drones will be flying automated missions beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). At the same time, I think we’ll see the first routine eVTOL operations (flying cars) in the U.S., with scaled operations by 2027.

Even if you think about just one industry, drones will be transformative. Take agriculture, for example. Drones will gather data that will enable us to increase yields, decrease costs, reduce our use of pesticides, and contribute to a greener planet. That kind of impact will scale across our economy, and all over the world.

Worldwide, we’re going to see first movers come up with innovative new ways to open the airspace for drones. Personally, I’m keeping a close eye on LAANC here in the U.S., and also on rapid progress being made with the regulators in Switzerland, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and a few other forward-leaning countries.

I hope that today’s regulatory hurdles will be in the rearview mirror well before 2025, as drone operators prove that complex drone operations are not only safe, but can also make unprecedented contributions to our economy, our work, and our day-to-day lives.

I’m tremendously optimistic about the future for AirMap and the drone ecosystem. I hope the UAV Coach community is, too.

The post Instant Airspace Authorizations, LAANC, and the Streamlined Future: An Interview with Ben Marcus, CEO of AirMap appeared first on UAV Coach.

White House Announces Pilot Program to Share Airspace Authority with Local Governments

President Trump has issued a memorandum to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao calling for the creation of an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program that will “test and validate advanced operations for drones in partnership with state and local governments in select jurisdictions.”

This announcement has come out quickly—just last week we heard rumors that this pilot program was in the works and now, only a few days later, it’s been made public.

Image source

According to a press release issued yesterday, results from the pilot program will be used to speed up the integration of drones into the national airspace, so that the U.S. can fully “realize the benefits of unmanned technology in our economy.”

Stakeholders will have the opportunity through this program to demonstrate how their innovative technological and operational solutions can address complex unmanned aircraft integration challenges. At the same time, the program recognizes the importance of community participation in meaningful discussions about balancing local and national interests related to integrating unmanned aircraft.

– Michael Huerta, FAA Administrator

In brief, the program proposes to:

  • Help the USDOT and FAA develop a regulatory framework that will allow more complex low-altitude operations
  • Identify ways to balance local and national interests
  • Improve communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions
  • Address security and privacy risks
  • Accelerate the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations

More specifically, the program will test drone operations in scenarios that are  currently prohibited by the FAA’s Part 107 regulations, including night flights, flights over people, flying drones beyond visual line of sight, and package delivery.

Many businesses in the drone industry feel like their growth is stymied by these prohibitions, and have been pushing to have them eased.

Although there are processes in place to secure waivers that allow all of these operations, getting approval is not always certain, and can take 90 days or more.

Aside from night waivers, which represent the vast majority of the waivers the FAA has issued, only a handful of other types of waivers have been granted (for BVLOS, flights over people, or flying from a moving vehicle).

All of this means that businesses who perform inspections or work in scenarios that might require these waivers are left unable to expand operations, or even to investigate the possibility of expansion, due to existing regulations.


The U.S. Department of Transportation will be accepting proposals from interested local government in partnership with private companies. The DOT will invite a minimum of five partnerships to start.

While the hope is that these pilot programs will ease restrictions and ultimately create more room for the drone industry to grow, if we end up with a patchwork of local laws so complicated—and potentially expensive, if each local authority requires its own license or permitting fees—that doing business is impossible, we will in fact have gone backwards when it comes to supporting the growth of the drone industry.

The post White House Announces Pilot Program to Share Airspace Authority with Local Governments appeared first on UAV Coach.

Parrot Releases New Prosumer Drones for Farmers and Firefighters

This week Parrot released two new drones as part of their Professional Division, doubling down on their bid for the prosumer market.

The Parrot Bebop-Pro Thermal is a drone created for aerial thermography, made for applications in firefighting, construction, and inspections, and the Parrot Bluegrass is a new drone made specifically for agricultural applications.


The Bebop-Pro Thermal

The Bebop-Pro Thermal is a version of the Parrot Bebop drone made specifically for aerial thermography.

It comes with both a 14MP camera and a FLIR One Pro thermal imaging camera, and can fly for 25 minutes. The retail package includes 3 batteries, a Skycontroller, and a backpack, and will be available next month.


Aerial thermography poses a new way for aerial service providers to make money, but the costs for getting started can be high.

At $1,400, the Bebop-Pro Thermal is well positioned for the prosumer market, and will be attractive to those service providers who would like to add thermography to their list of offerings, as well as to public agencies or smaller companies looking to incorporate aerial thermography into their operations with relatively small budgets.


Bebop-Pro Thermal Specs & Features

  • RGB camera Full HD 1080p
  • Thermal imaging: FLIR One Pro thermal imaging camera
  • Battery life: 25 minutes flying time (with Power Battery)
  • GPS
  • Internal memory: 32 GB Extended memory
  • Max horizontal speed: 16 m/s
  • Weight: 604g / 1.33 lb with the FLIR ONE Pro camera
  • Range: up to 2km with Parrot Skycontroller 2 in an interference free and unobstructed environment

FLIR One Pro Thermal Imaging Camera Specs

  • Thermal resolution: 160×120
  • Visual resolution: 1440×1080
  • HFOV / VFOV: 55 ° ± 1 ° / 43 ° ± 1 °
  • Frame rate: 8.7Hz
  • Scene dynamic range: -20 °C to 400 °C (-4 °F to 752 °F)
  • Accuracy: ±3 °C (5.4 °F) or ±5%, typical Percent of the difference between ambient and scene temperature. Applicable 60s after start-up when the unit is within 15 °C to 35 °C (59 °F to 95 °F) and the scene is within 5 °C to 120 °C (41 °F to 248 °F)
  • Size: 68mm W x34mm H x14mm D (2.7in x 1.3in x .6in)
  • Weight: 36.5g

The Parrot Bluegrass

Unlike the Bebop-Pro Thermal, the Parrot Bluegrass is a brand new drone design for Parrot, created specifically for agricultural applications.


The Bluegrass can fly 30 hectares at 70 m / 230 ft. flight altitude per battery. It comes equipped with an HD camera and a special sensor called the Parrot Sequoia, which was designed to detect problem areas in many different types of crop fields. The Sequoia multispectral sensor can record images of crops in four distinct spectral bands.


The Bluegrass will also be available in November, and will be selling for $5,000.

This cost includes one year of access to software from Parrot that allows the user to set an autonomous flight path over a plot of land. The software was created so that the pilot may set the boundaries of the field and the types of crops to be inspected, and then the Bluegrass will perform the inspection automatically (although it can also be flown manually).

Bebop-Pro Thermal Specs & Features

  • Area Coverage: 30ha (74ac) in a single flight at 70m flight altitude (230ft)
  • Range: Up to 2km – 1.2 miles, in an unobstructed area free of interferences
  • Ground resolution: 7.4cm/px (2.7in/px) at 70m (230ft) flight altitude
  • Automatic flight plan powered by Pix4Dcapture mobile app
  • Vertical take-off and landing
  • Weight: 1850g / 4lb
  • Size: 50 x 44 x 12 cm / 20 x 17 x 5 in.
  • Removable propellers for transport

Here are some pictures of the Bluegrass in action:



The post Parrot Releases New Prosumer Drones for Farmers and Firefighters appeared first on UAV Coach.

Meet the Only 3 Companies that the FAA Allows to Fly Over People

Before last month the FAA had only issued four waivers to fly over people—two to CNN, and two to FLIR.

But in September a third company, Project Wing, was issued a 107.39 waiver, and then just last week CNN was issued their third such waiver, increasing the total count by a third. (We’ve also heard rumors of a fourth company very close to being issued a 107.39 waiver . . . but more on that when it’s official.)

Image source

So what’s going on? Is the FAA getting more lax, or are companies just getting better at applying?

Let’s take a closer look.

Note: A waiver to fly over people is also known as a 107.39 waiver, since it waives the prohibition of flying over people covered in section 107.39 of the FAA’s Part 107 rules for small unmanned aircraft.

Who Are the Three Companies with 107.39 Waivers?

We’re first going to review the three companies that have been approved to fly over people, and then take a look at CNN’s three 107.39 waivers to see what we can learn about the application process, and how it might have changed since the first 107.39 waiver was issued.

CNN, FLIR, and Project Wing have all been issued 107.39 waivers. CNN has three of them, FLIR has two, and Project Wing has one.

Here are all of the 107.39 waivers that have been issued to date, organized from oldest to newest:



CNN was the first company ever to be granted a waiver to fly over people as part of the FAA’s Pathfinder Program. However, that first 107.39 waiver only allowed them to fly 21 feet in the air, so it really made more for good PR than for actual use.

In many ways, CNN has helped build the system to make flights over people permissible, by creating policies and guidelines, as well as detailed specs for the drone they plan to use, all of which have served to address the acute safety concerns that come along with flying over people.

The second waiver CNN received approved a tethered drone over people, which was still a limited use case.

But their third and most current waiver is ground breaking in the drone industry, because it allows operations over open-air assemblies (i.e., crowds) and flights up to an altitude of 150 feet above ground level over people.

This waiver signifies a critical step forward not only for CNN’s UAS operations, but also the commercial UAS industry at large.

– David Vigilante, senior vice president of legal for CNN

Here are CNN’s three 107.39 waivers, in case you’d like to take a look:


FLIR is a leader in the camera field, and they have secured two 107.39 waivers to date.

FLIR is unique in that they are the only company to have been granted a host of other waivers simultaneous to their 107.39 waivers.

Check it out:


What do those other waivers allow? Here’s a list:


The fact that FLIR got a waiver to fly a drone from a moving vehicle; to fly a drone beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS); and to fly over people all at once is just wild. Only a handful of other companies have been issued waivers to fly from a moving vehicle or BVLOS, not to mention over people—FLIR managed to get all three at once.

We reached out to FLIR to ask what all of these waivers were being used for, but haven’t heard back yet. We’ll make sure to update you if we do.

Here are FLIR’s two 107.39 waivers, in case you’d like to take a look:

Project Wing

Project Wing is a drone delivery company owned by Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

We reached out to them to ask what they planned to do with their brand new 107.39 waiver, which was issued one month ago, on September 25th. They didn’t have any public news to share, but did say “we’re really excited about the opportunities [the waiver] opens for us to do more complex flight testing in the U.S.”

Project Wing recently made big headlines for the launch of their backyard delivery program in Australia, where they are testing the delivery of burritos and other food in a remote area of the Australian Capital Territory.


If the Australia program is any indicator, Project Wing is looking to do similar things in the delivery space in the U.S.

Despite the recent successes of other drone delivery companies like Flytrex, with their delivery program in Iceland, and Matternet, with their upcoming delivery program in Switzerland, it seems like the one drone delivery company with a 107.39 waiver may well have a leg up when it comes to both testing and actually moving things forward with the FAA.

Here is Project Wing’s 107.39 waiver, in case you’d like to take a look:

What Can We Learn from Existing 107.39 Waivers?

Note: The content in the section that follows first appeared on the Drone Pilot Ground School website.

Since CNN has three 107.39 waivers, let’s take a look at the progression in the language from their very first waiver, which was issued on August 29, 2016, to their third waiver, which was issued just a few weeks ago on October 13, 2017, to see what we can learn.

Supporting Documentation

One of the first things you notice when reading CNN’s first 107.39 waiver, which is the very first waiver ever granted by the FAA to fly over people, is that CNN has essentially invented the requisite materials to demonstrate the responsibility, preparedness, and system requirements necessary for flying over people (presumably in collaboration with the FAA, as a member of the Pathfinder Program).

In CNN’s first 107.39 waiver, the FAA references seven different supporting documents submitted to support CNN’s application:

  • CNN UAS Operations Manual
  • Concept of Operations
  • Operational Risk Assessment
  • Fotokite Pro Operator Guide
  • Fotokite Pro Specification Sheet
  • Fotokite Safety Datasheet
  • RTI Fotokite Report

In the second waiver, none of these resources are mentioned (presumably because they are already on file).

And then, in CNN’s third 107.39 waiver, we see that these resources have changed and are now listed as:

  • CNN UAS Operations Manual (version 1.8)
  • CNN Vantage Robotics Snap Concept of Operations (CONOPS)
  • CNN Operational Risk Assessment for the Vantage Robotics Snap (ORA)
  • CNN Supplemental Letter in Support of Waiver Request to Operate the Snap UAS Over People

It’s worth noting the emphasis in all of these supporting materials on the UAS itself.

For CNN’s first waiver, four of the seven documents listed have to do with the Fotokite drone, and in the list of documents for CNN’s third waiver, two of the four documents listed have to do with the Snap drone.

Broadening Scope, Tightening Definitions

Moving forward, another thing you notice when you compare CNN’s first two waivers is that the FAA grows more permissive in the second waiver, but also much more focused in their definitions and allowances.

Here are some examples:

  • While the first waiver only allows for flights 21 feet in the air, the second allows for flying higher (although we don’t seem to find a specific cap on the height allowed).
  • While the first waiver generally allows flying over people and only prohibits “operations over open-air assemblies”, the second waiver only allows flying over certain people, i.e. Direct Participants and Persons Authorized (each designation has a specific definition).
  • While the first waiver contains 18 provisions, the second one contains 29, with many sub-provisions. One big cause for the extension of provisions in the second waiver is the inclusion of much more granular information regarding equipment maintenance, record-keeping, and the types of information to be recorded prior to flying and following malfunctions.

So what can we learn from all of this?

It seems like companies are getting better at applying for 107.39 waivers, and it also seems like the FAA is getting better at supporting companies toward successful applications.

Which is all to say that there will probably be more 107.39 waivers issued in the near future.

We know of at least one company that’s right on the cusp of being granted a waiver to fly over people . . . but our lips are sealed until the news is made public.

Stay tuned for more!

The post Meet the Only 3 Companies that the FAA Allows to Fly Over People appeared first on UAV Coach.

Rugged Commercial Applications, the Falcon 8+, and the Future of AI: An Interview with Anil Nanduri, Head of Intel’s Drone Group

Last month we had the pleasure of interviewing Anil Nanduri, Vice President in the New Technology Group and General Manager of the Drone Group at Intel.

In that conversation we focused on Intel’s Shooting Star light show drones, which have been making headlines for the last year, most recently for their use during the promotion of Wonder Woman’s release on Blu-ray.



We ran out of time during that interview, and there was still the whole world of A.I., industrial / commercial applications, and the Falcon 8+ to discuss, so we scheduled a follow up to cover these topics.

Here we go—

Begin Interview:

UAV Coach: Our team was impressed by the Intel demo at InterDrone, in which the Falcon 8+ was used to perform an automated inspection, and then deliver actionable data by comparing that inspection to a prior one. Can you tell us more about the automation used in that inspection, and what’s next for the Falcon 8+?

Here’s a short clip of the demo referenced above

Anil Nanduri: In automated scenarios, like the inspection done in that demo, the pilot is there to monitor and maintain the machine, as well as stay compliant with regulations and safety protocols, as opposed to actually doing the inspection or surveying work himself. From an automation standpoint, what we were doing at InterDrone is showing the capabilities of the platform.

Whether you’re looking at construction, surveying, mapping, or inspections, automation can be incredibly useful in industrial scenarios, because all of these applications come with a number of factors that have to be considered.

To be able to complete an inspection, you have to know the protocol of the inspection object, whether it’s a bridge, or a building, or a land survey. Automation can take care of both repeatability and safety, which is why the Falcon 8+ was built with triple backups, so there’s no single point where electrical failures or rotor failures can occur.

If you’re trying to inspect the facade of a building, like we were doing in the demo, the biggest challenge is often just to hold a position so that you keep the same distance from the object being inspected. From a distance, when you’re looking towards the building or surface to be inspected, our human eye cannot understand the perception of depth, especially as the drone gets farther away from the object.

Automation gets rid of this concern. If the system can manage the distance automatically, then the pilot doesn’t need to worry about it. Add to this our obstacle avoidance, and you have a platform that can fly safely.

The other critical factor of course is really solid mission planning—that is the last key ingredient to fully unlock the potential of automation.

UAV Coach: Where are you seeing the Falcon 8+ being used? What industries are using it the most, and how are they using it?

Anil Nanduri: The Falcon 8+ is primarily being used in surveying, mapping, inspections, and precision agriculture.

One of our biggest partners is Topcon Positioning Systems, a geospatial company that makes positioning equipment, which uses the 8+ for construction surveying.

For inspections, some of the most common use cases for the 8+ are inspections of assets like wind mills, offshore oil rigs, and other oil and gas scenarios. We’ve also seen it used for airplane and air bus inspections.

Another use case we’re seeing more and more of for the 8+ is precision ag, especially with seed providers. They need very, very accurate information, including flight outputs with high resolution imagery, and we can provide that for them.

Because the 8+ is so sound from a safety perspective, and also because it can fly in high wind and other harsh environmental conditions, you really see it shine in some of these more rugged conditions.


A srvey of the Cathedral of Halberstadt done with the Falcon 8+

UAV Coach: Given that the Falcon 8+ is such a robust, high end platform, do you have a special training program to help companies learn how to use it?

Anil Nanduri: Yes, we have training programs. Usually we work with operators until they’re very proficient.

We have lots of complicated features, such as electromagnetic interference handling, so it’s important to train the pilot in the ones they’re going to need.

Sometimes we provide this training directly, and sometimes it’s provided by a distributor.

UAV Coach: Can you describe some of the complications that come with learning how to fly the 8+ as opposed to other high end drones built for industrial scenarios?

Anil Nanduri: Flying isn’t really the complication—flying itself is amazingly intuitive with the Falcon 8+, and it’s no different depending on the mode of the remote.

It’s more making sure that the users can handle the advanced features and capabilities of the system in scenarios where they may need them, and also making sure they know how to capture and process the data that’s important to them.

For example, if you’re flying near a power line and need to use the electromagnetic interference handling, making sure you know how to do that. What should I do if there is interference? And so on.

Watch the video to learn more about Intel’s Falcon 8+


UAV Coach: We’ve seen the Falcon 8+ priced anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000. Is there a base price point, or how do you price the 8+?

Anil Nanduri: We actually don’t publish pricing from our side, but our partners and distributors do. Pricing can vary greatly depending on the unique customer’s request, since there is such a wide range of capabilities for the platform.

You might have an inspection pay load, which has a floor camera and, say, a 20 megapixel RGB camera. So depending on how you’re configuring it, your cost will vary accordingly.

UAV Coach: During his keynote Intel CEO Brian Krzanich spoke about how the development of drone technology is pushing forward the development of A.I. Can you describe how this is happening for our readers?

Anil Nanduri: Regarding A.I. the key question is, How do we automate data capture and then also automate the production of actionable insights from that data?

If you think of a drone as a tool that helps perform certain tasks, the customer really doesn’t care about how you capture the information. What the customers wants are the insights produced from the data the drone captures.

So if you’re doing an oil rig inspection, the customer wants to identify any faults, defects, or cracks. He’s not looking for a thousand images from a drone, just the insights about his assets.

The same goes with inspecting a bridge, where you’re going to be looking for corrosion and cracks. Are there any deviations or any deformities, and things like that.  Or if you’re looking at surveying, the customer will want to know the terrain model, and he wants it to a centimeter level of accuracy, so he can automate the construction flow and feed that back to the architects and designers—again, not the images, but the output.

We’ve proven that a drone can be a very effective tool. It’s more efficient, less expensive, and safer for all of these types of use cases we’ve been discussing. But the next step is, how do I make inferences from the data a drone captures? If it takes 50 people to analyze the data, that not going to help anyone.

You need to be able to automate this process, so you can get the inference and the actionable insights automatically. Once you have the data, wouldn’t it be great if your computer automatically told you, “Hey I detected 10 cracks on this bridge. Here’s the precise location of each one, and heres what they looked like the last 10 times you did that inspection.”

That’s where A.I. comes in.

UAV Coach: How do you see this technology being used five years from now?

Anil Nanduri: I see a day where drones are actually flying automated patterns—not just one of them, but many of them—and they are both capturing information and analyzing it.

For inspections, I can see scenarios where drones are finding corrosion and cracks, flagging them, and then delivering the information through a text message that sends the data file to the right person, and lets them know when something needs to be taken care of immediately.

This isn’t just for commercial inspections either. This same technology could be applied for search and rescue missions where you have a missing person, and it could be a fleet of drones doing this kind of work.

I think these capabilities will evolve rapidly. If you look at where we were five years ago to where we are today, you see drones getting much, much smarter.

And this technology actually already exists inside other industries. Machine learning is being used with data from our smart phones, our pictures. If you start using this same technology for crack detection, or rust detection, and you’re able to develop that domain knowledge, that is the path forward.

First we have to get a lot of data into the cloud, and as it gets analyzed it will be interpreted and classified, and the ability to classify it will continue to get better. At first you’ll need a human inspector to review the data, but as the system gets better it will become more reliable, and eventually it will become better than a person, and will even be able to predict changes over time, once it has enough information to see what has happened in the past and project the likelihood of degradation in the future.

This is where the systems we have and AI will come in. The goal would be for a whole lot of data to come in, and then be automatically classified into sections that say, okay I see seven potential problems. Three are critical, two are risks, and the last two seem to be okay for now.

The technology exists, it just needs to be adapted to this ecosystem and to these applications. I’m confident we’ll get there, and I think it will happen soon.

The post Rugged Commercial Applications, the Falcon 8+, and the Future of AI: An Interview with Anil Nanduri, Head of Intel’s Drone Group appeared first on UAV Coach.

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