US: Commercial UAV Expo, a conference and exhibition focused on the commercial sUAS (small Unmanned Aerial Systems) market in North America, has released a report called “6 Predictions: UAV Experts Discuss Important Developments for Commercial Drone Applications.” The free report not only traces the developments in sensor technology, it also provides insights from industry experts on the changes to come for the commercial drone industry in 2016, including the highly anticipated Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ruling scheduled to come midyear that will ease the requirements and process with regard to flying UAVs for commercial purposes and what it will mean for various industries. Here are the predictions:
1. The final ruling from the FAA will not be completely final
When the FAA released the small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) document, many experts were quick to both praise and criticize the agency, sometimes in the very same instance. Many commended the elimination of the requirement for operators to have a private/commercial pilot’s license, but others just as quickly pointed out that the new rules will not enable beyond visual line-of-sight (BLOS) operation, which could greatly restrict development.
Most experts are predicting that the final ruling from the FAA will not be as open as many other countries regulations already are, which means certain innovations will be developed outside the United States. The conversation around the risk we can and should accept when pursuing new technology will be a major point of contention this year.
2. ROI and drone services will take center stage
With the FAA ruling set to redefine and clear up much of the confusion around what commercial operators can do, the impact that drones have on the bottom line will be a much bigger part of the conversation. The ability to monetize a process and see an ROI are going to become of critical importance, regardless of whether someone is paying for drone services or providing them.
That distinction is also going to be an important one to keep an eye on, because there will be a big push by organizations to deal with UAV operations themselves as opposed to outsourcing those tasks to a service provider. For the past few years, most of the big companies have hired specialized drone service providers because they wanted to avoid liability and the FAA paperwork, but the upcoming ruling will create the opportunity for them to bring things in-house and have better control over drone-related expenses and revenue.
The one rule of history is “follow the money”, and it’s true for this emerging drone market just like it‘s been true for every emerging market. The competition that will be created between service providers on account of the FAA ruling will mean companies have that many more options to see a positive ROI.
3. New sensor technology will change the paradigm
New sensor capabilities that are set to debut this year will give operators the ability to capture data that has never been able to be gathered in this way or even at all. That includes drones which utilize sense-and-avoid technology to help ensure they continue to gather specialized data in harsh or dangerous conditions, but there are plenty of other exciting developments right around the corner.
UAVs are going to get smarter in a noticeable way in 2016. Drones will continue to become much more sophisticated and handle more complicated tasks, and in turn require less from the operator. Software advances will help developers serve niche markets, which will enable them to satisfy requested capabilities. With commercial regulation eased, a lot more people are going to be using UAVs, allowing smaller companies to drive demand for their sensors, software, workflow, etc.
4. We’ll begin to think about safety in a whole new way
It’s the recreational users who cause the majority of incidents like a drone landing on the White House lawn. This supports the assertion of many experts that the FAA should have applied the harsh stipulations to those users as opposed to commercial flyers. Regardless, the need to keep the skies safe is a priority for everyone, and tools that give operators info they need to know, such as aeronautical charts and updates on FAA flight restrictions, are required.
Additionally, UAS traffic management (UTM) systems will take us that much closer to a world where fliers will have and be expected to have knowledge about what’s happening in the airspace around them. These are systems that won’t just provide the flyer with information, but will allow them to interact with other flyers. The ability of these systems to enable safe airspace operations by providing services such as airspace design, dynamic geofencing, congestion management and plenty more will bring us that much closer to a world where you can go out into the field and know exactly how far away another UAV is flying. It will allow operators to know where everyone in the air around them is at all times.
5. The hype will be fulfilled and built upon
A better understanding of UAV technology will open doors this year by creating new opportunities for everyone. That means 2016 will be a pivotal year in terms of how people can and will be able to see the difference between what someone promises a drone can do and what they actually can do today and far into the future.
Software and Cloud processing companies are developing algorithms and automations that can intelligently manage and process all the data that the drones are generating, which will enable that part of the value chain to be developed locally and in the Cloud.
The information out there now isn’t just about what drones can do for a bottom line, it’s about how jobs can be augmented and made more powerful, which changes the standard around adoption. The model completely flips around when the people using the tools are the ones who see the benefit and push for their implementation, and that all stems from them being able to actually see what kind of a difference they can make.
6. Jurisdictional headaches are going to come to the forefront
Technology moves faster than legislation can ever dream possible, and some countries have embraced that reality, while others refuse to acknowledge it. Ultimately, the FAA needs to develop a further sense of trust with the commercial industry as a whole, and with so many different priorities and agendas, that’s a tall order. Nonetheless, we’ve seen time and time again that laws and regulation aren’t going to slow down technology developments, which means the people making the rules need to understand what’s at stake and move forward with things as they are, rather than the way they’d ideally like them to be.
Much of the argument around jurisdiction comes down to how risky you want to get and what you’re trying to do with the technology. The debate over how far we can and should be able to take those risks will be a major issue in 2016.
Regardless of what happens in 2016, the legal, technological and logistical issues around being able to fly UAVs for commercial purposes are going to change and develop in ways that will alter the landscape. The experts quoted in this article are all working to ensure those developments are positive ones, but such outcomes are hard to predict. With legal restrictions in the US eased, many more opportunities will soon be available in various markets that are ripe for development, which means there’s been no better time to get involved with drones.