The drone industry is still in the early stages of growth, but it seems to have progressed past the very first phase of bleeding edge technology and to be moving – rapidly – towards proven solution. As enterprises ramp up adoption of drone technology, drone manufacturers who started selling in the military space are moving to meet them.
The shift isn’t as big as it might seem. Steve Gitlin, VP Corporate Strategy, Communications and Investor Relations at AeroVironment says that they haven’t been serving military customers – they been serving innovators. “We consider ourselves a technology company,” says Gitlin. “When we first developed the hand launched UAV for reconnaissance in 1986, we knew that this could be used across a broad range of industries. We also knew that the government would be the most likely early adopter.”
“We’ve been serving the innovators in the industry,” he says. “They’re the customers who have formed that value chain that allow us to bring the technology to the commercial market as regulations allow.”
It’s a theme that rings true for most of the companies expanding from the military into the enterprise. While the commercial market may utilize technologies in a different way, the core technologies generally translate well. And enterprise customers, averse to risk when it comes to big technology investments, like having their solutions tested by some of the most demanding customers in the world.
Here are 3 drone technologies first adopted by the military showing up on civil worksites around the globe.
MA-based CyPhy Works is the leading provider of tethered drone technology. The Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications platform – PARC™ – is a drone weather and wind resistant drone using CyPhy’s patented microfilament tethered system to provide secure communication and power – translating to flight endurance of days rather than minutes. The tether – which the company describes as “thin as a headphone cord” can keep PARC anchored to one location, making it an ideal solution for many types of surveillance.
CyPhy Works founder and CTO Helen Greiner says that the tether just makes sense for many applications. “It’s a surprisingly efficient and effective solution for keeping a drone in one place,” says Greiner. “We see growth in traffic management, oil and gas, asset management, hazardous incident response… anywhere you might need an eye in the sky.”
That “eye in the sky” is a powerful tool. High powered optical allows customers to zoom in on whatever is taking place on the ground, making the system desirable for many types of public safety and security events in addition to industrial uses. The humanitarian uses for the drone are legion also – the PARC is portable and rugged enough to provide disaster response intelligence, or to establish a communications network in a specified area after a disaster.
AeroVironment covers many aspects of the commercial market, including precision agriculture, energy and infrastructure. But one of the products they’ve sold for years into the military sector offers unusual benefits for the commercial inspection vertical. AeroVironment provides a range of tiny, stable and wind-resistant drones – designed to go almost anywhere.
For example, the Snipe (pictured) – unveiled just a few weeks ago – weighs in at 4.9 ounces and includes “both an electro-optical (EO) and infrared (IR) camera that transmits video real-time for day and night operation,” says the company. While the initial marketing is clearly oriented towards military customers, AeroVironment specifies that the drone can be easily used for commercial inspections – where it’s perfect for inaccessible spaces.
“The commercial market uses the technologies in a different way,” says Gitlin. “Actionable intelligence is slightly different for military and commercial market… But it’s all on the spectrum of actionable data.”
Think Big: Coherence
It isn’t only aircraft technology that’s filtering down into the enterprise; it’s the system mindset. While Insitu – now part of the world’s largest aerospace company, Boeing – certainly has experience in hardware, their systems focus on the big picture. Insitu is addressing the very large enterprise market from a total solution standpoint: gathering data, processing, and then integrating with their customers’ solutions environment to deliver actionable data effectively.
“It’s about coherence – the way that you put all of those things together is the differentiator,” explains Vince Vidal, Insitu’s Director of Commercial Solutions, explaining that Insitu’s total process approach – developed with military early adopters and practiced on a huge scale – is a major advantage in large enterprise. “It’s the solution combined with the expertise. We develop the products, we constantly close the link of improvements. When we see a capability gap, we address it. We are in full control of the value chain.”
Insitu’s INEXA Solutions are a “suite of remote sensing products and information delivery services” that leverage the huge resources of Insitu and Boeing to solve business problems. It’s a consultative, customized approach designed to address big challenges: and it’s while it’s not for small players it offers significant value. “It’s an investment,” says Vidal. “If we can’t offer an efficiency of 10x, it’s not worth the conversation.”
Jon Damush, VP and General Manager of Insitu Commercial, says that military systems aren’t vastly different from large enterprise solutions. “While the use cases are different, the key core quality is the same. Reliable, dependable, secure – when it comes to the actual quality that the customer is looking for, they are looking for the same thing,” says Damush – pointing out that large enterprise share the same mission critical mindset with military customers. “Overall professionalism is key. There are very few times when you can tell a military customer that you aren’t flying today – and large enterprise expects the same.”
While enterprise adoption is being led by some critical verticals – energy, agriculture, security and inspections are the current darlings of the industry – drone tech is spreading rapidly. And as the technology develops and drones become a more familiar feature of the sky, the rate of adoption will increase.
“There is so much interest, there are so many uses for drones that there almost isn’t an industry I can think of that isn’t including drones in their future plans,” says Helen Greiner. “Drones are kind of a magic technology in many respects.”