The most recent technology breakthroughs in the commercial drone industry have propelled it to an entirely new level. Previously, a drone's entire flying cycle had to be continuously piloted and monitored. Fortunately, we have entered an era where drones can complete their predefined missions from start to finish while the operator is away. And drone-in-a-box systems have played a pivotal role in making this happen. These systems eliminate the need for human intervention by allowing the drone batteries to be charged/swapped autonomously, saving time, effort, and money.
Until now, the industry had been familiar with "Closed DiaB Systems," wherein a single company built everything. They invest in each segment, from building the drone to the box to the software to selling the system directly to end-users, making it expensive to produce and consume. To address this issue, FlytBase advocates for an "Open DiaB Movement" wherein hardware manufacturers, software providers, and DSPs collaborate in their areas of expertise to build and sell a modular system that reduces costs and improves efficiency.
The "Open Diab Movement" concept was reinforced during a panel discussion held during the NestGen'22 summit, where ground warriors advancing this technology and deploying it in many industries - the DSPs - shared their vision. Among the experts present were:
- Tariq Nasraldeen, Founder & Chief Aviator at Firnas Aero in Saudi Arabia
- Yuji Kuwamizu, a UAV specialist at AfterFIT, Japan,
- Mohamad Shawky, Founder & CEO of Geodrones Aerial Services and,
- Elia Ray Salem, Project Manager at DroneBase, Italy.
Industries likely to see rapid adoption of DiaB systems
The conversation started with one of the most frequently asked questions: "Which industries would see the earliest or most rapid adoption of drone-in-a-box systems?". The four experts cover several industries that would profit from full autonomous system deployments in their respective regions.
Drones for Oil & Gas Inspection
In the UAE region, Mohamed discusses how drone docks have made inspection and surveillance of oil rigs and pipelines that span kilometres easier and safer for personnel. Monitoring leaks or gas emissions, detecting spills and detecting corrosion in offshore rigs, solar panels, and remote facilities have become convenient in topographically and climatically challenging areas such as Dubai. The DiaB systems are weather and heat-resistant. An internal cooling system allows for much easier aerial mapping and surveying than was possible a few years ago when drones were not autonomous.
Drones for Security
Tariq adds to the conversation by discussing how autonomous drones have transformed security operations. Previously, large facilities had to be physically patrolled despite inclement weather, which made the procedure unreliable, inaccurate, and often even unproductive. Adding AI and object recognition technologies has made patrolling much easier - everything is now detectable, from a license plate to a wrongly parked car. The ability to attach payloads like thermal cameras or sensors to drones has further rendered the manual process obsolete.
Drones for Renewable Energy
Yuji brings a unique perspective to the discussion. According to him, in Japan, standard surveying approaches are highly ineffective since most solar panels are installed on mountainous terrain. With the integration of off-the-shelf drones, DiaB systems, and advanced AI, AfterFIT Japan can now conduct remote photo imaging, anomaly, and soil inspections in less than 10 minutes, at a significantly lower cost. Yuji emphasizes the benefit of autonomy, stating that operations are not hampered by external factors such as inclement weather, resulting in increased productivity.
Obstacles hindering full utilization of DiaB systems
Despite increasing awareness of drones, their capabilities, and advancements, Elia states there are very few drone companies in Italy, and DroneBase has to build market awareness through significant investments and continual promotion. Last year, they held live demonstrations at the NATO military airport to raise awareness (the testing ground for manned and unmanned systems). With several high-profile individuals from the military and other relevant industries in attendance, they attempted to highlight the benefits to aid regulatory bodies in their decision-making process.
An aspiring drone entrepreneur? Don't miss out on industry experts' advice!
Each with a wealth of knowledge and lessons learned, the panellists shared their insights with aspiring drone entrepreneurs. Mohammed stated that today's entrepreneurs must spend time and effort constantly self-reflecting and addressing the demands and concerns of their customers. It will, in his opinion, help entrepreneurs fine-tune and hone their services.
Speaking of customer demands, Tariq says that it all comes down to the client's requirements at the end of the day, which entrepreneurs should not lose sight of. He also believes that instead of catering to everyone's needs, aspiring entrepreneurs should try to specialize in different industry segments. Every segment necessitates a different set of expertise and skills, and one should strive to make their area of expertise a differentiating factor as well.
He recalls a conversation he had with a client years ago in which the client said, "I don't care what drones you're using, autonomous, non-autonomous or whatever, I just need my data to be accurate and timely."
Should one be scared of Drone Autonomy? We think not!
The panel concludes by addressing the concerns that arise during the initial phase of any modern technology. With drones and artificial intelligence coming in, there is concern about the loss of employment. The panel, however, disagrees with that viewpoint; Mohammed affirms that "DiaB will not cut jobs, but instead create more jobs."
He explains how, even if drones become fully autonomous, the industry will still require human involvement in mission planning, management, and monitoring drone flying cycles. Furthermore, we are a fair distance away from the day when regulatory bodies approve the flight of drones without a pilot, whether autonomous or not. There are several checks and balances that must be considered. Even reductions in certain job profiles will be offset by an increase in the creation of new job profiles and technological advancements.
To summarize, while long-distance travel, unfavourable working conditions, and repetitive flights would no longer be part of a pilot's workflow, drone autonomy could lead to more fulfilling careers for pilots in areas such as R&D, data analytics, and people/human-centric operations that require not only relevant knowledge and experience but also human characteristics such as empathy and general perception.
Watch the following video, to hear from the industry experts themselves. Watch complete event On-Demand, visit here.