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Such Great Heights: The Deal With Drones

From data analytics to disaster relief, drones and UAVs have added a remarkable new perspective to a broad range of use cases, changing the way we interact with–and analyze–the world around us. The drone marketplace is constantly evolving, as new discoveries, innovations, and investments bring sophisticated new products to the market.

On November 13th, 2019, SVF and Avanta Ventures partnered on “The Deal With Drones,” an informative evening event featuring a panel of drones and UAV experts talking investment trends and predictions for drone technology. The evening also featured a pitch from Aeronext, a drone company from Japan with a revolutionary stabilization technology solution.

Panelists: 

  • David Li, Venture Partner at Avanta Ventures (mod)
  • Jon Hegranes, CEO of Kittyhawk
  • Joshua Resnick, CEO of Parallel Flight
  • Rebecca Morton, CEO and President of GeoWing Mapping

Here’s what we learned:

  • The drone industry is regulation-heavy, but it’s getting better all the time. Panelist Jon Hegranes called it a “crawl-walk-run” development process. Sharing airspace is tricky, especially in an industry that involves the FAA – remember that drones are suing the same sky as 747s – and drone technologists today must innovate within a heavily regulated framework. With good reason, of course—safety is job one in terms of mechanical flight. But there’s still plenty of room to explore—panelist Rebecca Morton said, “We’re pleased with the changes we’ve seen over the last few years—there used to be a lot of controversy over where you could fly and when, but the rules have gotten a lot more friendly to businesses.”

    “There have been a lot of advancements to open up the airspace—it used to be a 6-week, paperwork-heavy process,” Jon added. “The FAA now asks for a “safety story” – you can be approved to do stuff that’s not off the shelf (flying at night, etc) if you can demonstrate you have a good reason for doing it.”

  • Farms are out, InsurTech is in. Drone-based solutions evolve as fast as the industry itself—companies are saving millions every year by using drone tech for tasks and projects that required hours of labor and safety measures. When drone tech first took off in 2015, agriculture was on everyone’s minds as an ideal use case for what the technology had to offer. “Everyone thought agriculture was going to be the holy grail—but mapping is starting to take over, especially for industries like insurance,” Rebecca pointed out.

    “It’s not just the industry, but the regulations associated with it,” Josh agreed. “Agriculture has its own licenses and certificates, which added a lot of hurdles to the process. Innovation is coming, but it’s going to be slow—it’s a lot harder and a lot more expensive to go beyond the line of sight, instead of quick cases like mapping, or rooftops.”

    Californians have been beset by wildfires for the last few years, and drone advancements are finding enormous potential in fire safety and science. “It’s a 10x reduction in cost over manned aircraft,” said Joshua Resnick. “Specifically, logistics for firefighters—especially in active fires and controlled burns.”

  • Find the “why” before you fly. The panelists agreed: the success of a drone company, enterprise or otherwise, depends on knowing just exactly why you want to solve problems from a bird’s eye view – for clients and for your own business goals. “Have a first use case in mind already,” Jon said. “And involve a lot of different stakeholders in your company: cover data concerns, legal concerns, data privacy, etc. Create a framework where safety is a key part of your culture.”

    “As an entrepreneur and a founder, I’m very much driven by a vision: we can use drone technology to save lives, property, and the environment, because we can fly in conditions that are too dangerous for manned aircraft,” Joshua added. “How can we build a tech that saves lives, while staying within the regulatory framework?”

  • Safety and security are…well, they’re working on it. From data leaks to engine failures, drone technologists are innovating new ways to keep their aircraft—and the information on it—safe and secure from the ground up. “Piloting is a skill, not a hobby,” Jon said. “It should be treated accordingly. It’s still a very operator-dependent tool for now, so you have to set standard operating procedures.”

    “Basically, it’s a ton of engineering,” said Joshua. “It’s all about having the right protocols and policies in place. And lot of it has to do with common sense—if you’re worried about privacy, don’t connect your drone to the internet.”

    “Risk doesn’t end when you land,” Jon added. “Maybe you captured something or flew somewhere you shouldn’t have.”

  • It ain’t heavy, it’s my payload. The panelists talked about the tech trends they’re most excited about in the years to come – and lifting capabilities were at the top of everyone’s list. “Multispectral cameras for mapping apps are really developing,” said Rebecca, “As well as heavy lifting—bringing on sensors that weigh more. Early mapping systems were designed for the auto industry, in self-driving cars. Lasers and LIDAR systems need to be higher-end, provide more points per square meter, and provide higher range.”

    Joshua said, “I’m seeing a lot of innovation on the power trade (train?) side—we’re developing a parallel hybrid system that combines a combustion system with an electric motor. I’ve seen innovation on the combustion side. Innovations for extending flight time with a small sensor payload is the norm—the next level in innovation is heavy lifting and a heavy sensor payload.”

    “The drone industry is very different—instead of a diverse market to start, one company has had 80% market share. More aircraft diversity is starting to develop. Having a real-time use case is key—it’s not just about shooting footage and viewing it later, but involving a livestream as well.”


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Blog Author:
Micaela Youmans
Director of Communications

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