Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend InterDrone 2015, the world’s largest commercial drone industry event.
I represented the good ‘ole UAV Coach team, one of 150 media partners present. Tack on another 75+ exhibiting companies, three days of speakers, a film festival, and 3,000 attendees, and you’ve got yourself a whopping-fun get together of drone geeks.
Wanted to give a quick shout out to some folks I spent time chatting with. Was nice to meet you all in person and look forward to our paths crossing again soon. Best of luck with each of your respective companies!
- Ben Grizzell from GrizzPix
- Marty Cannon from UAV Concepts
- Sanjay Chandiram from USA Toyz
- The entire Gowdy Brothers team
- Mike Schiller from Drone View Imaging
- Enrico Schaefer from DroneLaw.pro
- Chris Thomas from MultiGP
7 Key Takeaways from InterDrone 2015
Alright, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of the conference.
What’d I learn?
Don’t Skip the Fundamentals
If you’re serious about getting into the UAV industry, it’s important to understand the fundamental technology and hardware components at play.
Kevin Jenkins in his Build Your Own Drone session walked the audience through all the decisions you’d make if choosing to build your own unmanned aerial system.
- Are you building a one or two-operator system? In a two-operator system, one person is flying, and the other is controlling the gimbal and camera.
- When evaluating transmitters, 6-channels is the practical minimum you’d want to buy. Futaba and Spektrum are two of the more robust transmitter manufacturers.
- You should always land with 25% of your LiPi batter voltage (V) and/or capacitance (mAh) remaining. Also, use a balanced charger to re-charge your LiPo batteries, and be careful how you store and travel with them!
U.S. Regulations are (New and) Messy
As Jim Williams pointed out in his keynote address, FAA Regulations: Past, Present & Future, the goal of the FAA’s proposed regulations, issued as NPRM Part 107 back in February 2015, is to create a new, more reasonable kind of pilot’s license class for commercial drone operators.
Until that happens, commercial UAV operators in the U.S. need to petition for a 333 exemption grant. The grant holder is allowed to break existing regulations and fly under the auspices of a blanket COA and set of struct guidelines as laid out by the FAA.
Line-of-sight and the pilot’s license requirement. Flying direct line-of-sight would make first-person-view (FPV) technology illegal to use if you’re the primary drone operator, which doesn’t sit well with companies like Google and Amazon. Fortunately, the Pathfinder Program is a step in the right direction.
And, even though you can get a 333 exemption for yourself or your company without satisfying the pilot’s license requirement, the pilot-in-control (POC) in any given mission needs to hold a valid airman’s certificate.
Many folks choose to go through sport pilot license training, which can be completed in as short as 2-3 weeks and costs about $5000-$7000 all-in. Others are choosing to build their business around partnerships or contractor relationships with licensed pilots. There’s already about 600,000 licensed pilots in the U.S., and many of these guys are looking to get in the drone industry themselves as evidenced by the number of pilots I spoke with! Definitely lots of opportunities to partner up with the right people.
Pick Your Market
Don Weigel’s session called Putting Drones to Work: Meeting the Needs of Enterprises was particularly helpful. From his course description:
Commercial applications for UAVs range from infrastructure inspections and construction site surveys to environmental monitoring and search and rescue. While the applications for drones are ever increasing, businesses looking to operate drones face common challenges to scaling operations to realize the full value of aerial data.
This session will cover UAS businesses requirements, including commercial-grade aircraft, sensors, hardware and software applications to enable enterprises to safely operate drones at scale and seamlessly integrate aerial data with existing business processes and systems.
In this class, you’ll learn how to build complete enterprise-grade solutions, including:
- Selecting the right commercial-grade vehicle
- Selecting best sensors, hardware and software apps
- Bringing it all together with an operating system to help businesses meet regulatory and insurance requirements, integrate with existing business processes and systems, and scale operations.
Don walked us through what an enterprise-level UAV program workflow should look like. Ultimately, thinking through each angle of the flight to final report processes and checks and balances and being able to operationalize them in a scalable and safe way is what makes or breaks UAV technology in the enterprise.
Really enjoyed Don’s presentation and methodology!
At the end of the day, you can’t just be a good UAV pilot and expect to make money. You need to pick your niche, evaluate your market, know how to market and sell to clients, and how to conduct your operations in an efficient and safe way.
Industry Innovations and Projections
I particularly enjoyed hearing Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics and former editor-in-chief at Wired Magazine, speak in his keynote address on Wednesday.
Some of my favorite quotes:
- “We’ve democratized remote sensing.” We’re now putting powerful tools in the hands of ordinary people, and as a results countless applications are beginning to manifest. Hop on Google and start typing drone + INSERT INDUSTRY, and you’ll get a sense of how widespread UAV technology is becoming.
- “Drones will become more like sprinklers.” Sprinklers were the first smart-home element, and eventually UAV technology will get to a point where we have aerial systems running automatically, in the background, sending us data and what not.
- “Drone are not airplanes without pilots. They’re smartphones with propellers.” Other than an automobile, a drone is one of the most complex consumer products ever made.
- “In 2016, any drone that’s not running Linux on-board will be seen as a toy.” Step it up, drone manufacturers!
We’re an International Community
With conference attendees from all 50 U.S. states and 40+ countries, InterDrone showed us how international the UAV community really is. I met pilots from Colombia, Mexico, France, Germany, and Australia, and I barely scratched the surface of geographies represented there.
More and More Industry Players
It’s not just DJI and 3DR.
There’s Ehang, creator of the GHOST Aerial Drone, who just landed $42M in series B funding. And then Intel just pumped $60M into Yuneec, who coincidentally launched their Tornado H920 drone at the conference.
And countless others. Drones just for search and rescue. Turnkey software solutions just for precision agriculture applications. Insurance providers!
The UAV ecosystem is in hyper-growth mode, and it’ll be interesting to see which companies and services last over the next 12-24 months.
Need for Education and Training
Despite positive trends, there are still plenty of buffoons out there giving the UAV industry a bad rap. (Yes, this NYC teacher wrecked his drone at a U.S. Open tennis match.)
It’s not just up to the FAA.
It’s up to all of us to not only follow best practices, but to also push others to do the same.
Whether it’s going through the 333 exemption process, learning to fly a drone safely, or knowing how to take raw footage and turn it into powerful images, video, or data models for your clients, opportunities abound for the aspiring professional drone pilot.