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Commercial Drones: 23 Experts to Follow for News and Insights

Between the constant exploration of regulatory boundaries and the near-constant introduction of innovative technologies, the world of commercial drones features a landscape that evolves quickly.

That means anyone who is currently using a drone to do business — or anyone thinking of doing so — faces some enormous informational hurdles. How do you keep track of evolving legislation and new technology?

By following the right industry insiders.

These are the 23 people and publications you will want to follow on Twitter to get up to speed quickly.

 

Sally French, @TheDroneGirl

Sally French has a blog, The Drone Girl, that serves as an excellent starting point for both hobbyists and commercial UAV pilots. She knows the drone industry very well, and her Twitter feed is a reliable source for news and industry trends.

 

Diana Marina Cooper, @Diana_M_Cooper

Diana Marina Cooper is PrecisionHawk’s senior vice president of policy and strategy, so she is on the ground every day in Washington working to communicate and influence industry regulations. Follow her for up-to-date news from the FAA plus intel on heavy-industry drone applications.

 

Gary Mortimer, @sUASnews

Gary Mortimer is the founder and editor at sUAS News, a site that has been reporting on small, unmanned aerial systems since 2008. Mortimer and the team’s other writers are all pilots and industry professionals, and the site’s Twitter feed is among the best information resources you will find in the commercial drone space.

 

Romeo Durscher, @romeoch

Romeo Durscher is the director of education at DJI, which means his job involves teach organizations and industries the best ways to apply drone technologies effectively and safely. Follow him for news, industry insights and a big-picture perspective on commercial UAVs.

 

Colin Snow, @droneanalyst

Colin Snow is the founder and CEO of Skylogic Research, which helps startups understand industry trends and the regulatory environment surrounding the use of drones. Follow him for some of the most thoughtful analyses of the commercial drone markets.

 

Droneblog, @droneblog

Droneblog is an excellent news source for both commercial and hobbyist pilots. Its Twitter feed is good about quickly posting any new articles the site publishes, plus relevant news stories from across the web.

 

Randy Goers, @DroneRadioShow

Randy Goers hosts the weekly Drone Radio Show podcast, which seeks to showcase the various opportunities UAVs present to a variety of industries. Goers is a city planner and strategist. Follow for podcast updates and industry news.

 

DroneLife, @Drone_Life

DroneLife is a blog that covers commercial and consumer news, but it has a special focus on construction and agricultural applications. Follow for the blog’s unique coverage of those particular sectors.

dam

 

UAS Law Blog, @UAS_Law

The team at law office Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman have created a blog specifically for drone regulations where they can share news and their own insights. Follow UAS Law Blog on Twitter to keep up with their posts plus the additional research they share.

 

Brendan Schulman, @dronelaws

Another excellent legal source is Brendan Schulman, the vice president of policy and legal affairs at DJI. Follow him for the latest guidance and news out of Washington, plus relevant industry news he finds elsewhere.

 

Jonathan Rupprecht, @jonathanruppre

Jonathan Rupprecht is one of the top private-practice attorneys in the country to specialize in the rules and regulations that pertain to drones. Follow him for legal news plus tips on to get any certification you or your team might require.

 

Peter Sachs, @TheDroneGuy

Peter Sachs is the author of the Drone Law Journal and is an important advocate for industry drone operators because of his work in pushing back against many FAA regulations that he feels are overreaching in their scope. Follow for legal news and a healthy dose of mainstream media fact-checking.

 

Drone360, @Drone360mag

Drone360 is a magazine for both hobbyist and commercial operators that does a nice job of covering everything from regulations to news to everyday tips (e.g. how to travel with a drone). Follow for a regular feed of the magazine’s own pieces, plus occasional news from elsewhere on the web.

 

Helen Greiner, @helengreiner

Helen Greiner is a serial entrepreneur — her companies include iRobot and CyPhyWorks — who has spent her career working with robotics. Follow her to get a glimpse of a future powered by robotics, from drones to self-driving vehicles to automated delivery services.

 

Jonathan Evans, @jwce21

Jonathan Evans is the co-president at drone operations management software company Skyward and the president of Global UTM, a Swiss nonprofit that works to integrate UAVs into national airspaces. Follow him for glimpses into the future of unmanned aerial flying.

construction

 

Greg McNeal, @GregoryMcNeal

Greg McNeal is a professor of law and public policy at Pepperdine University and co-founder of AirMap, a provider of UTM technology that allows for air traffic management of low-altitude drones. Follow him for thoughtful insights into where cutting-edge technology intersects with regulations and security best practices.

 

Gretchen West, @gawherry

Gretchen West is a senior advisor at the Hogan Lovells law firm in Silicon Valley, and she is the co-executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance. Follow her for insights into the entire spectrum of robotic vehicles, and their commercial applications.

 

Iain Butler, @theUAVguy

Iain Butler, Ph.D., is an EVP at hearing aid manufacturer Eargo, and he has been involved in the multirotor UAV community for years. He also has a company, Kextrel LLC, that provides aerial measurement and photography services, plus custom drone builds. Follow him for trends and industry news.

 

Unmanned Experts, @UnmannedExpert1

Unmanned Experts provide railroad and transport infrastructure inspections via drone, and the team also consults and trains other organizations on how to deploy drones. Follow them for unique insights into the transport sector.

 

Ian Smith, @SkyCapture

Ian Smith hosts the Commercial Drones FM podcast and works for UAV operations software provider DroneDeploy. Smith also hosts a commercial drone operators Slack group. Follow him for podcast updates plus thoughtful industry insights.

 

Drone Center, @DroneCenter

Drone Center tweets on behalf of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York, where students and researchers conduct in-depth studies into the challenges and opportunities of applying UAV technology in the public and private spheres. Follow for updates on the thoughtful, original research the center is doing.

 

Paige Mitts, @DroneOnUASUAV

Paige Mitts is an aerial photographer who specializes in bigger properties (e.g. hotels and hospitals). She also stays up to date on commercial UAV news, and she passes along important news and insights via Twitter.

 

Women and Drones, @WomenandDrones

Women and Drones is a blog that spotlights great work by women in UAV industries, as well as STEAM programs that work to get more women involved in scientific careers. Follow them for news as well as frequent shoutouts to the women who are doing important work in the field.

images by: Kevin Chow, Alex Bagirov, 贝莉儿 NG

8 Frontiers Where Drones Are Rapidly Changing Heavy Industry

As our new Chief Drone Office Andrew Maximow pointed out, the advent of two-click autonomous flight for drones “was really the watershed moment” that brought drones out of the hobbyist realm and into big industry.

Only a few years in, we are seeing some truly revolutionary applications of drone technology in industries such as facilities management, and oil and gas — not to mention construction, mining and solid waste.

Here are eight broad areas that are reaping the benefits of this business transformation today.

 

Securing Oil and Gas Pipelines

Drones are particularly welcome in industries such as oil and gas, where hundreds of miles of pipelines demand regular inspection to prevent leakages (or worse).

This has long been an expensive task. “Before drones, inspecting miles of pipelines was done by helicopter, truck, and on-foot for remote areas,” the team at EnergyHQ writes. “And while some inspections still require up-close review from an expert, drones are equipped with new tech to detect and deter potential leaks or methane emissions. Plus, instead of sending out a crew to inspect a remote location, drone surveys are also safer.”

That was an important point for Gail India, a state-owned gas transporter in India. In 2014, there was an accident at one of Gail’s pipelines in Andhra Pradesh that killed 18 people, and the company faced intense pressure to shore the safety of its pipelines.

In April of 2016, it began testing out drone surveillance on a pilot basis on a 200-kilometer stretch of pipeline in the north of the country.

And back in the States, the booming fracking industry has its hands full with its own safety concerns. In response, Physical Sciences, Inc. has been developing a drone specifically for this industry to examine pipelines and identify whether gas pipelines are leaking methane.

 

Thermal Imaging to Spot Problems in Built Environments

With UAVs that can conceivably surveil every square inch of a building’s interior or exterior, you have the ability to get real visibility into where you think warm air is leaking (and driving up energy costs, much to the chagrin of facilities managers and building owners everywhere).

In October, Facilities Management Journal discussed how UK-based FM services provider Mitie had begun to incorporate drones into its thermal imaging toolbox. The applications could be crucial to facilities and worksite managers, who would be able to use Mitie’s Inspire 1 drones to

  • perform building inspections,
  • look for potentially flammable spots in landfills,
  • and even spot bird nests in sensitive places.

The Inspire 1 can also help create thermal maps of a facility so it’s easy to spot any areas that require additional insulation.

railroad

Mapping Sites and Tracts of Land

The team at Kespry has been making huge advances with two-click autonomous flying, to the point that deploying one of its drones requires almost no effort.

Wayne Grayson has a piece on Kespry’s Drones 2.0 at Equipment World that demonstrates how easy it is to use one of these devices for mapping even sizable areas:

“After opening up the package, you call Kespry and speak to a customer service representative for about an hour as part of the initial setup process,” he writes. “When you’re ready to start mapping, you open the Kespry iPad app, draw an outline around the site you want mapped on the screen, drag a slider to the height you want the imagery taken from and launch the drone.

“That’s it. From there, the drone takes off, maps the site and lands in the exact spot it took off from. During flight, an on-board LiDAR sensor automatically detects and avoids obstacles like trees, cranes, and buildings.”

Afterward, the drone returns, connects to WiFi and uploads the images for you. Kespry has software, then, that will render a 3D model for you.

The speed of innovation, however, might be a little unwieldy for area managers and site managers (and surveyors themselves), who have enough on their plates to keep up with drone technology that takes a great leap forward every six months or so.

“It’s very possible many surveyors would rather hire a service provider to collect data than invest in a tool that can be obsolete is as little as six months,” writes Colin Snow, CEO and co-founder of Skylogic Research. “They may also consider short-term leases to ensure their technology is relatively current or just rent a drone when needed.

“Regardless of how small drones fit into the workflow, they will not only affect the industry, but they will also create new opportunities for independent contractors who, based on their experience, may be able to fly and collect data less expensively than surveyors.”

 

Improving Visibility and Communications Along Rail Lines

Interestingly, there is a killer app possibility in the world of railroads, both with freight and with commuter trains.

For one thing, train companies have the same problems as oil and gas companies: Miles of infrastructure that need constant monitoring. BNSF Railway moved quickly to employ drones in that kind of work. As journalist Thomas Black reports, the railroad company began flying its drones 150 miles in the sky to both monitor its tracks and to help the FAA understand regulatory challenges of letting drone operators fly the craft outside of their lines of sight.

But even passengers on the trains are finding drones helpful. As the team at Railway Innovation points out, some companies (and even the UK government) are testing how useful it would be to have drones follow along behind a train to boost in-car WiFi connectivity.

“Passengers are often frustrated by intermittent phone and WiFi access on the train,” the piece notes. “This is a real issue for customer satisfaction in the railway industry. The problem of tunnels and long stretches of rail through remote regions make internet connectivity a serious challenge.”

wind-turbines

Securing and Surveilling Worksites

Then, of course, there is security itself, which can be a huge challenge at worksites and in built environments. A few startups have begun building drones to help solve those problems.

One such company is Aptonomy. It builds drones that essentially function as security guards to ward off intruders — and to keep human security professionals out of harm’s way, potentially.

MIT Technology Review’s Tom Simonite explores how this would work: “When on duty, an Aptonomy drone will be programmed to patrol a set area automatically, and use its onboard cameras to spot and approach any person entering who shouldn’t be. The drone would flash its warning lights, light the person with its spotlight and deliver a canned warning to retreat. A security guard in a control center would be notified, and the guard could take control of the drone and speak through it.”

Another drone-based security company, Pixiel Security, earned an award at the Expoprotection trade show in 2016 for its NeoSafe drone solution, which sends one or more drones out to spot intruders with mounted cameras, then notify site managers via an alarm.

 

Monitoring and Protecting a Worksite’s Wild Neighbors

Every worksite has neighbors that will be affected by the work being done, and it’s important to protect those neighbors who don’t have a way to speak up for themselves when ground is broken and machines move in.

With drones, it becomes relatively easy to monitor the populations of animals and other wildlife adjacent to a site. Drones are already being used to monitor and inspect all kinds of wildlife populations to gauge their wellbeing.

As Alissa Crane writes at DrDrone.ca, organizations are using drones to identify different animal species, track poachers and even assess the health of the plants in a forest. Deploying this same technology can help companies ensure they aren’t encroaching upon especially delicate environments, and they can measure objectively the health of their wild neighbors before, during and after a project.

Oh, and the B-roll makes for entertaining videos:

 

Monitoring a Community’s Energy-Delivery Infrastructure

As with railroads and pipelines, the infrastructure that makes a power grid requires continuous monitoring — and the ability to react instantly should something go wrong.

Again, let’s take the story to India, via the Bay Area. As Palo Alto’s Sharper Shape reported in August 2016, it had begun working with Indian power transmission company Sterlite Power to provide automated utility asset inspections.

“India has a power transmission network of more than a million circuit kilometers which is undergoing double-digit growth annually,” Sharper Shape’s team points out. “The use of drones will increase the uptime of the grid, reduce transmission tariffs, avoid grid blackouts, and also save the environment by reducing deforestation along the line corridors.”

Then, there are the power plants themselves. At a coal plant, for example, monitoring the equipment is more self-contained, but on a wind farm, where assets are distributed across a wide area, monitoring all of the machinery is difficult unless you have some reliable drones.

In February, the U.S. Department of Energy featured one Michigan company, SkySpecs, for that company’s ability to pancake the time it takes to monitor wind turbines. “Historically, inspections have been time consuming and expensive,” the DOE’s Michele Capots writes.

“While preventative maintenance has become a standard practice (rather than reactively waiting for problems to arise before fixing them), effective proactive maintenance requires large amounts of data. Today, SkySpecs inspections take less than 15 minutes — and they can conduct as many as 17 inspections in one day. That’s currently faster than any other inspection company in the industry.”

 

Capturing Time-Lapse Footage of Construction Projects

A lot of people get into the construction business simply because it’s so gratifying to build something. There aren’t many other industries in which you can step back from a finished 10-story building and say, “I helped build that.”

Clayco understands this, and its team had the foresight to film its construction of the Zurich Insurance Group’s North American headquarters:

LIFT Drone Timelapse Video from Clayco on Vimeo

images by: ©cozyta/123RF Stock Photo, Martin Wessely, Jason Blackeye