- Posted by Szerkeszto
- On July 13, 2017
- 0 Comments
- aircraft, drone, UAV
by Eva Rez
A post about UAVs and drones
After my ‘Innovation Above The Clouds’ blog post this one could be referred to as ‘Innovation Above The Ground’. As an investor it is quite confusing to navigate through the world of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Since Amazon announced its intention to deliver to its customers with drones, we have been in the middle of a hysterical hype, and there is no genuine startup festival without some fancy drones. Therefore, I thought to tidy up this space a bit.
Is UAV equivalent to drone?
Let’s take a top-down approach here.
UAS — Unmanned Aircraft System: It includes a UAV, a ground-based controller, and a system of communications between the two.
UAV — Unmanned Aerial Vehicle: An aircraft piloted by remote control or on-board computers.
— RC aircraft — Radio Controlled aircraft: A UAV that is controlled remotely by an operator on the ground using a hand-held radio transmitter.
— Drone — ‘Male bee’: A UAV that has the capability of autonomous flight and hovering. Every drone is an UAV but not every UAV is a drone.
- MultiCopter: A mechanically simple aerial vehicle whose motion is controlled by speeding or slowing multiple downward thrusting motor/propeller units. QuadCopter very popular style for consumer-use drones that is lifted and propelled by four rotors.
From battlefield to sandbox
Many innovations are the result of military needs. UAVs are no exception. Historical records claim that it was actually Austria that applied the forerunner of UAVs when it sent unmanned, bomb-filled balloons to attack Venice in 1849. UAV innovations then started in the early 1900s, and later on became crucial to save lives. Without human pilots in the cockpit they could be used for various military purposes.
Nowadays, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the hobby drone. However, there are many other types of usage from agriculture through photography to traffic monitoring. I have found a very good categorization of UAVs by application, class, payload, energy source, subsystem and material type HERE.
Not to lose focus, I will highlight some popular use cases and a few examples below (not only hardware companies). Moreover, I also share a SUMMARY TABLE with you where I collected quite a few companies (mainly hardware) that operate in various UAV spaces. I heavily relied on the WATCH LIST 2017 of UAV COACH and company websites.
Photography, videography: Once you would like to capture images out of reach, you will definitely need an UAV. It is not that simple though. These flying machines have to be equipped with flying and camera stabilization systems to assure quality. Companies: Blade, produces quadcopters and mini-drones for the consumer market, offers cheap way to learn aerial photography. DJI key player, especially, with its Phantom series. Sky Viper, streaming video drone provider.
Agriculture: In many cases it makes more sense to monitor fields from above than from the ground. However, scrutinizing a farm from a satellite or a manned aircraft is quite expensive. With a UAV a farmer can track the crop from the air and identify soil variation, differences between healthy and distressed plants, irrigation problems or various infestations, and he/she can react to it quickly. Moreover, it becomes possible to make time-series analysis based on the images recorded over time. 2D-3D map processing and different sensors come in handy. Companies: AerialTronics, commercial UAS provider with on-board data processing. PrecisionHawk, end-to-end aerial platform provider. SenseFly, a commercial drone subsidiary of Parrot, key player in mapping drones.
Energy: The benefits are very similar to those of agriculture. Wind turbines, solar panels, oil and gas sites or power lines are more accessible with drones, thus monitoring — e.g. identify damages, leakages — can be done more efficiently. One additional factor here is that employees do not have to be put into dangerous situations. Various add-ons such as map processing and sensors also play an important role here. Companies: Action Drone USA, portable industrial drone provider. Hawkeye Drone Services, aerial imagery service provider. Sky Futures, provider of drone-based inspection services to the global industrial markets.
Public safety / Disaster response: Small flying machines are also very useful when there is a disaster. Thermal camera on-board can help to identify people stuck on a dangerous site or enable firefighters to faster find the source of the fire. Besides monitoring purposes, aid delivery will be facilitated to disastrous areas in the future, therefore, governments, humanitarian organizations can react more promptly. Aeryon Labs, small UAS provider. CyPhy, persistent drone provider. Insitu, subsidiary of The Boeing Company, UAS provider.
Mining: With drones mining processes not only become much safer but can be easily streamlined. Mapping and sensing features of well-equipped UAVs enable mineral exploration, the monitoring of safety environmental compliance and the tracking of equipment locations or stockpile movements. Cost- and time-savings can be significant for operators. Avision Robotics, built a powerful platform that controls the communication and navigation of large amounts of robots and drones. Harrier Aerial Surveys, UAV remote sensing service provider. Kespry, UAV provider for industrial applications.
Others: The only limit to use cases is imagination. Some drone companies are also advertising applications and services for other areas: construction, environmental protection, infrastructure, media, telecommunication, etc. The basic concept is the same though: increase accessibility, facilitate cost- and time-efficient monitoring and operations as well as protect human workforce.
SUMMARY TABLE: UAV companies and their applications
+1: Here are some surprising applications:
- AguaDrone provides UAVs for fishing. Their accesories include a sonar fish finder, a bait/lure carrier and a waterproof camera. FIND. FISH. FILM.
Sandbox is being taken over by…
While military usage still outweighs the civil UAV market, the later is gaining foothold. While the former is led by US and Israeli companies, the later is dominated by Chinese (DJI, Yuneec) and French (Parrot) players. India and other developing countries are getting visible on the drone map too with its startups companies.
Only in the USA there were 770,000 UAVs registered at the beginning of 2017, while probably there are more than 1,000,000. With easing regulation and more safety — geo-fencing and collision avoidance — the commercial UAV space will become more significant with a growing market share of enterprise solutions and services. Gartner predicts revenues from drones sales to reach USD 11BN in 2020 (vs. USD 4.5BN in 2016).
It can also be seen that while hardware — the flying machine itself — is a must, may companies are working on software solutions (e.g. mapping, flight management) or services (applications such as surveying for agriculture, mining, etc.). There are players who even provide their customers with full packages from their own self-developed UAV to deploying a complete analysis to the client. From an investor point of view, these innovative approaches and business models can be very exciting in the near future, and will help us make a difference between the tremendous players. The competition is best indicated by the partnerships and transactions — investments, acquisitions — in this space.
There could be another blog post written about UAV regulation but I cannot omit some essentials here. Depending on country legislation there can be various approaches but in most cases registration is needed with the relevant authority, and above a certain weight pilot license is required to control the aircraft or drone. In the US UAVs’ commercial operation is restricted to daylight, line-of-sight, under 100 mph, under 400 feet, and they may not fly over people or be operated from a moving vehicle.
America has realized — Eureka! — though that further UAS development is in their best interest, which requires regulatory stability, thus The Safe DRONE Act of 2017 has just come out. The bill — up for a vote in September — attempts to create the guidelines for the industry. If you would like to get more details you can read the key points HERE.
I am (still) not a UAV expert but this quick journey in this impressive space has been fun. I recommend to click on the hyperlinks because there are worthy sources behind!
If you are a drone fanatic, developer or professional, feel free to leave a comment! I’m happy to learn more!