Experts believe drones are efficient tools for the future.
By Ken Kaplan
Experts forging careers around a growing drone economy believe they are valuable and efficient tools for businesses and government agencies alike.
They see new uses for drones sparking job opportunities across a variety of industries. “People say the number of drone pilots has already surpassed the number of manned aircraft pilots,” said Parimal Kopardekar, principal investigator at NASA for unmanned aerial system traffic management.
The number is just taking off
PK, as Kopardekar is known to friends and colleagues, is creating an unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) traffic management (UTM) system to help avoid catastrophic collisions caused by rampant drone traffic, especially if regulations allow drones to y beyond the visual line of sight.
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His forward-looking work is indicative of the widely anticipated rise in drone use.
By 2020, drones will grow into a $100 billion market, driven in large part by commercial and civil government sectors, according to Goldman Sachs Research. Yet the report states that drones’ full economic potential is likely to be multiple times that number as their ripple effect reverberates through the economy.
Commercial and civilian use of drones is the “fastest growing eld in aviation,” according to former Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) administrator Michael Huerta, who spoke at the 2017 InterDrone conference. He said that more than 79,000 drones were registered for commercial and government operations in the first year since Part 107 rules—regulation introduced in 2016 sur- rounding drone use—took effect.
“By 2020, drones will grow into a $100 billion market, driven in large part by commercial and civil government sectors, according to Goldman Sachs Research.”
Drones collect data
Kopardekar said drones are already capable of collecting data regarding agriculture, including measuring water and determining plant health; helping outdoors inspections of cell towers, industrial equipment, and construction sites, and aiding activities involving public safety, disaster recovery, and humanitarian effort.
“Drones are becoming part of the supply chain because they can digitize whole processes,” Kopardekar said.
Building drone capabilities requires people who can pilot, manage, and repair drone hard- ware and software, collect data, and train additional specialists. As a result, Kopardekar says he sees businesses and government agencies building in-house drone expertise, as well as hiring outside experts and services to leverage drone technology.
“More than 79,000 drones were registered for commercial and government operations in the first year since Part 107 rules—regulation introduced in 2016 surrounding drone use—took effect.”
Kopardekar often works with universities across the U.S. that are adding courses on drones to their offerings, including the University of Nevada, Reno; Brigham Young University, Michigan; and Iowa State.
He said large companies first took a wait-and-see approach regarding the technology, enabling smaller startups to lead the way, but now companies like Intel, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are deeply involved with drones.
Future of drones
Looking into the future, Kopardekar sees drone innovation going the way of automation. “You can see us as we start getting to the world where there’s high speed 5G wireless connectivity that the data comes off the drone and goes straight to the cloud and the analytics start,” he explained.
He said commercial drone pilots need experience and precision flight skills. They need to arrive at a site, build a flight plan and then y the drone to capture critical data that’s either stored within the drone or transmitted wirelessly to the internet.
A company that needs the actionable information will likely require their own drone pilot in-house or work with a drone service provider to manage flight plans and make sure the data reaches their cloud with a view to being analyzed, he added.
“Even though there’s a lot of automation, there’s still a lot of opportunities,” he said. “You need to figure out where to apply drones, set up the system and manage all the hardware, software, and regulatory authorizations required to build and run it.”
“Drones are already capable of collecting data regarding agriculture… helping outdoors inspections of cell towers, industrial equipment, and construction sites, and aiding activities involving public safety, disaster recovery, and humanitarian effort.”
Finding her own career path
Increasingly, drones are being used by a diverse group of individuals from different disciplines, said Kara Murphy, a certified commercial remote pilot and writer based in Michigan.
In 2013, she started her own consulting business, which led to her working on the Flying Ro- bot International Film Festival and writing for DroneDeploy and Drone360 Magazine. Her growing fascination with drones drove her to get a Part 107 certification in early 2017.
She says her work with DroneDeploy and companies opened her eyes to how drones can be used across a variety of sectors.
Kopardekar insists that drones are a gateway into the aviation industry. They’re a tool for hands-on learning, and they’re more affordable than commercial planes.
“You can get a pilot’s license fairly inexpensively in a matter of weeks, so you are able to join the aviation community with drones then evolve from there,” he explained.