As President of the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) of Atlanta, I am honored to host some of Atlanta’s top technology professionals for our monthly meetings. And our March meeting on drones was no exception! We were delighted to have Jesse Kallman, Aerospace executive and industry expert with experience in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), broader aviation and geospatial industries, as our speaker.
He’s spent his career in various parts of the industry including research at Georgia Tech, federal policy at the FAA, commercial UAS at Airware, advocacy and policy with groups like the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and building new geospatial services with Airbus. He has quite an impressive resume, so we were thrilled to have him tell us all about the present and future of drones.
As you’ve probably already noticed, Jesse refers to drones as UASs, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems. But they are also called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and are all pretty much the same thing. Drones have been “re-named” over the years because of the perceived negative military connotation of being a predator of sorts.
But as Jesse explains throughout the webinar, drones are for so much more than creeping on our enemies. Here’s a recap of the highlights.
A growing industry
According to Deloitte, the drone industry in 2019 was $19.3 billion and is expected to grow to $45 billion by 2025. But why the growth spurt? While the military is still a large market and where drones got their start, the consumer market is actually the biggest contributor to growth. They are being used, for instance, by real estate agents to market houses.
Growth is also being driven by the enterprise drone market. Many companies today have fleets of hundreds of drones to perform different tasks than they did just a few years ago. The subsegments for urban air mobility – vertical takeoff and air taxis – have also been hot growth areas.
But the real driver of the market is software advancements. The enterprise software space, not the drones themselves, has been attractive for investors. There’s tremendous value in the data the drones collect. And the best way to turn that data into actionable information is to integrate it into your enterprise system, which means software development.
Many possible uses
As I said before, the first drone use was military related. But the possibilities are almost unlimited now. Here are just a few examples of how they are being used today:
- Utility companies: With a drone, power companies can inspect infrastructure remotely. They can also assess vegetation growth over power lines to stay ahead of outages (but this use has been expensive, hindering the ability to use the technology for this purpose on a widespread basis).
- Insurance market: Atlanta was one of the first trial areas for State Farm to evaluate roofs for hail damage. With a drone, the adjuster can evaluate your roof from the ground, which is safer and a quicker method to process claims.
- Bridge inspections: Using a drone is more efficient and much safer for bridge inspectors, especially for those hard to access areas.
- Airports: Flying a drone on an airport runway to inspect it is much more efficient and the airlines don’t have to ground planes for as long as a typical inspection method.
- Farming: Drones can find disease in spots before it becomes widespread and can help predict yield. They’ve been used mostly in farming for high-value crops, such as wine grapes.
- Oil and gas: Much like other industries, drones can inspect oil and gas pipelines much faster and more efficiently than traditional methods.
- Film: In Georgia, one of the biggest uses of drones is in the film industry. A drone can be outfitted with a cinema-quality camera to get that perfect shot.
- Food/package delivery: Dominos has tested pizza delivery and Amazon and UPS have tested package delivery. But it’s mostly only feasible in rural areas due to current FAA regulations (drones are viewed as aircraft to regulators).
But there are challenges
This may all seem exciting and futuristic, and it is. But there remain some real hurdles to overcome, mostly relating to cost, FAA regulations and privacy concerns.
First, the drone industry needs to get the price point to where it’s more cost effective to use them for everyday tasks. For example, in the utility example, it’s less expensive to have a person inspect the vegetation around power lines than to send a drone AND a person to fly the drone to conduct the inspection. This is driven by cost, but it’s also because the operator can only fly the drone within their line of sight, mostly due to current regulations.
Similar to many other technological advancements, the FAA regulations haven’t caught up to drone technology yet. Flying a drone beyond the visual line of sight, which would enable flying them longer ranges, is just not allowed on a widespread basis. The regulations have changed a bit over the last few years, but not enough to make it practical.
There are other outstanding legal and policy issues to overcome as well. For instance, allowable altitudes are in question, what you can/can’t fly over is up in the air (pun intended) and approval and certification of each drone is difficult. Even just 10 years ago, it was practically an act of congress to get access to air space. Now, it’s much easier as the process has become far less complex. All the above has evolved over the last four to five years, but according to Jesse, we still have a long way to go.
Individual privacy is also a big concern when it comes to drones. However, there are currently manned aircraft that conduct land surveys and map for satellites (like Google maps) overhead all the time. The difference is drones are just more invasive because you can usually see and hear them. It’s a tricky thing to track, but regulators are looking into it.
What are the career paths?
If you want a career in the drone world, Jesse said there are many possibilities. Most of the professionals come from varying backgrounds including aerospace, software development, geospatial software, data/data analytics and even pilots. Focus on math, science, computers, electronics, etc. while in school.
Also, make sure you have lots of hands-on experiences, such as the Design, Build, Fly competitions. These events, organized by the AIAA Applied Aerodynamics, Aircraft Design and Flight Test Technical Committees, are held at the high school and college level all over the country. Georgia Tech participates in these competitions as well as others.
What does the future hold?
According to Jesse, there are a lot of exciting things happening in the drone industry. These include:
- The Atlanta team from Airbus is working on a high-altitude UAS called Zephyr.
- Electrification of aircraft – startups are popping up to turn gas-powered aircraft into fully electric ones.
- Fully autonomous aircraft is coming with applications in the cargo market. If this comes to fruition, one pilot could control 10 aircraft instead of two pilots in one aircraft.
- Flying cars? According to Joby Aviation, they are coming by 2024-2025 (but only over geographic areas with small populations, thank goodness!)
Wow, all of this is super exciting and slightly terrifying. But I’m here for it!
About the author
Steven Wright serves as a Senior Account Executive for Synergis and volunteers his time as President of the Atlanta chapter of the Association of Information Technology Professionals. Steve has had a career in technology, spanning more than 25 years. He has always served in an advisory, and relationship development capacity, working within sales and business development groups for healthcare technology outsourcing, manufacturing, professional service, and, most recently, the staffing industry. In his free time, Steve enjoys learning about new and emerging technologies. This love of tech has helped him aid clients and candidates alike in their career and talent journeys.