UAV Community Feedback Report
The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry is facing unique issues. This report addresses, industry challenges, special needs, and data exchange practices encountered by entrepreneurs in the commercial market who are a part of the Virginia Small Satellite Consortium (VSDC) Advisory Group (AG) and who offered their insights for this report.
The AG includes leaders from early-stage companies that provide support for a number of industries. Below is a brief intro to each:
- Linebird – Michael Beiro, Founder and CEO. Linebird is applying drone technology to the dangerous and labor-intensive process of live-line work.
- Drone Point Solutions – James Coker, President. The company provides wireless power with short re-charge times that provides a major improvement in flight times.
- Airgility – Pramod Raheja, CEO. The company builds autonomous systems focusing on three markets: 1) communications and delivery, 2) autonomous inspection and 3) counter-drone and reconnaissance. Software includes autonomous and robotic operations with reduced training requirements.
- Axcel Innovation-Robert Rea, Consultant. Axcel is a specialist economic development consulting and program management company that publishes a weekly newsletter on unmanned aerial systems working in four primary domains: 1) business creation, 2) business retention and growth, 3) business attraction and 4) infrastructure.
The following are challenges the members of the AG face:
- Regulations – FAA regulations requiring waivers to access airspace required by clients and flight in nighttime conditions and flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) is a principal constraint to growth.
- Funding – It is challenging for early-stage companies to raise investment capital and to make the transition to private financial markets.
- Insurance – Novel technologies have difficulty obtaining commercial liability insurance for certain tasks such as conducting new types of power line inspections with drones.
- Other – Other challenges include processing large quantities of data collected by drones, and collision avoidance, particularly near airports and beyond visual line-of-sight needed for power line inspection.
The following is a list special needs the members of the AG face:
- Industry Regulator Challenges – The technology is a challenge for industry regulators, and new protocols must be developed for best practices. The FAA is updating rules and regulations to better accommodate drones in the industry; however, progress is slow because the industry is new and challenges are not yet fully explored.
- Equipment Availability – It is increasingly difficult to procure equipment due to new limitations on the availability of Chinese parts and products, as well as current worldwide battery and chip shortages.
- Lift Capability – Heavy-lift capability is needed to accommodate the increasing weight of equipment.
- Wireless Charging – Quick wireless re-charge capability, such as provided by Drone Point Solutions, is required in order to increase flight time and make the industry more viable for varied business applications.
- Lack of Support for Early-Stage Companies– Business incubators are needed to support entrepreneurs.
- Networking Support – The State of Virginia should invest in directories and platforms that would be useful to link early-stage companies in support of networking, collaboration, special events, and development of eco-systems for collaboration among public, private, and academic organizations. The Virginia Center for Innovative Technology, Massachusetts Robotics, and Genius New York are examples.
- Other – Other examples include agriculture automation, vaccine delivery, manned aircraft teaming, anti-drone technology, commercial product delivery, thermal sensors for rescue, underground exploration, and dedicated airspace for research and development.
Data Exchange Practices
The following are data exchange practices expressed by the AG:
- Limitations on data sharing are not yet a problem. The Virginia Flight Information Exchange is a good first step in supporting the industry.
- Security can be maintained through encryption if needed.
- Drone traffic data, currently controlled by the FAA, is needed.
- Linebird is currently developing analytical methods for collecting data and converting to information useful for infrastructure asset managers of utility companies.
- Linebird Is developing training programs and tools for pilots to gather, analyze, and process data as well as consulting support to pilots.
- Other examples include developing opportunities for network formation and procedures for protecting proprietary information as it is developed.
The following are potential benefits of the UAV sector on the economy:
- The development of wireless power networks will remove current limitations on flight time and solve the seemingly unsolvable problem of drone traffic management.
- The advancements in the UAV sector will result in the reduction of worker time spent in hazardous environments and improvements in the quantity and quality of infrastructure health/safety data. Substantial cost savings could also be realized by replacing helicopters with unmanned aircraft.
- The utilization of drones in powerline maintenance has the potential to shift from reactive to preventive grid maintenance strategies, which will yield enormous gains in grid reliability, resilience and reduced costs from power outages.
- The utilization of unmanned vehicles can lead to faster emergency response, faster drug delivery, reduced cost for power line and bridge inspections and new education opportunities.
The economic benefits of this rapidly growing industry are high. The State of Virginia is one of the top five in the country in the development of the unmanned systems industry and needs to continue making appropriate investments to maintain and enhance our position.