Flying high: why enterprises are embracing drones

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Drones have moved on from the image of ‘must have’ consumer toys – they are now evolving into fully-fledged enterprise flying machines that are changing lives –  we see them carrying out everything from field inspections to safety checks.

Amazon was one of the first to put drones on the business map with CEO Jeff Bezos’ dream of delivering small packages directly to shoppers within 30 minutes.  It moved a step closer to making this a reality earlier this year when it was granted permission to test its drones in UK airspace.  The Civil Aviation Authority is allowing the online retail giant to experiment with flights beyond Line of sight (LOS), obstacle avoidance and the flying of multiple autonomous drones.

At the 2016 Pathfinder Awards this month, Bezos shared some more information on Amazon’s drones. He said they will be completely autonomous, navigate and land by themselves and fly at more than 50 miles per hour.  They will be able to complete a twenty mile round trip and deliver package weighing in at five pounds or less.

Amazon isn’t the only one testing drones for commercial applications. UPS, a global leader in logistics has teamed with drone company CyPhy to deliver packages to remote or difficult-to-access locations. Testing has already begun.  A simulation delivery of urgently needed medicine was made from Marblehead to Children’s Island, a 3 mile programmed route over the Atlantic Ocean.  The flight went without a hitch. The company has also been testing drones in warehouses to check very high storage racks for available storage space. 

Legislation must open a path to innovation
Drones are already being used in some professional operations   successfully in our societies. SNCF Réseau, for example, uses drones for its inspection, surveillance and maintenance work across the French railway network, whilst The Drone Project is using drones to carry blood and live saving supplies in Rwanda.  Agriculture, predicted to be one of the main users of drones in the short term, is already using drones to collect data to boost yields – Precision Hawk being one of the leading providers of drone analytics software in agriculture, as well as in other industries such as construction or energy.

Legislation, however, has put the brakes on drone technology taking off quickly. But the landscape is starting to change slowly.  In August, we saw the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) release new regulations that cover unmanned aircraft weighing less than 25 kilograms that are being flown for “routine non-hobbyist use”. The drone must remain within the visual line-of-sight (VLOS) of the remote pilot in command. At all times, the drone must remain close enough to the pilot in command and the person managing flight controls to be capable of seeing the aircraft with “vision unaided by any device or corrective lenses”.

A faster change in the regulation landscape could result from the adoption of UTM (Unmanned aircraft systems Traffic Management) technologies in which the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) is actively involved. UTM will allow safe drone journeys beyond LOS. This will open up the door for further integration of drones into US airspace and new opportunities for business, government and public use of drones. This explains the huge market interest for UTM-based technologies such as Precision Hawk’s LATAS that combines innovative hardware and software bricks in one and unique solution. 

At the same time, the European parliament is working on updating legislation aimed at bringing all drones within the EU civil aviation network for the first time.

Following a high level meeting on drones in Warsaw, Poland last November, the EU Commission is now working on a concept of how drone operations should be organized in the EU-Space.  This is expected to be presented in the next six months. The European Commission has already proposed giving the EU competence to regulate on all drones regardless of their weight. Currently, the EU can only regulate drones with a weight of more than 150 kg while member states regulate the lighter models.

By the end of 2018 at the latest, the EU has said it expects to adopt a final Regulation on Unmanned Aircraft Operation.

Flying higher with the Internet of Things (IoT)

With drones now a commercial reality, industry and aviation stakeholders need to create global harmonized legislation that will help advance the technology, whilst ensuring safety and security is paramount.

At the same time, rising technologies like IoT will be giving the means for regulation to evolve and fulfill its goals.

Orange, for example, is keen to give drones their real place in the digital ecosystem.  It has been working with drone manufacturers and the Direction générale de l'aviation civile (DGAC), the French Civil Aviation Authority to overcome constraints such as out of sight flying and collision avoidance. One of the challenges being faced is exchanging data reliably with the drones while in the air – a challenge for which global IoT networks are allowing to move forward.

Orange is also talking to companies such as Precision Hawk to accelerate both the adoption of drone anti-collision systems and the real-time usage of drone data for business applications.  Currently some drone applications still require the drone to land and the data be transmitted on the ground using USB.

We are seeing other IoT use-cases such in insurance – usage based insurance, the same as with the connected car – being now integrated in drone based services.

The drone age is arriving
Drone technology has enormous potential commercially, socially and economically.  But drone legislation is overdue.

As an agnostic provider, Orange is looking to act as a mediator, to get all the market players and authorities together to collaborate on drone legislation, which is still evolving, to speed up the drone’s enterprise and government potential.

As soon as the industry and governments can tackle the issue and introduce legislation and guidance for the use of drones, the technology can truly take off.

Read more about the regulatory challenges around drones here

Rabi Kobeissi

Rabi has been leading the IoT Business Development for Industry within Orange since 2014 and engaging with many of the leading market players across Industry verticals on both technology and business challenges.

Prior to that, he was in charge of managing complex international bids for Orange Business Services, including some of the early OEMs' connected car projects.

He has also held responsibilities in the mobile network engineering division managing technical, regulatory and partnership aspects. He is a member of the French Industry 4.0 association ("Alliance Industrie du Futur") and a speaker at major Industry events such as Hannover Messe.

Rabi holds a Master degree in Digital Communication Systems from Telecom ParisTech and the University of Paris 6, and has had a paper publication on 4G networks presented at IEEE's VTC conference.