The first Unmanned Leadership Forum took place yesterday. Over a dozen unmanned experts spoke to a global audience of over 300 people about topics that included Covid 19, drone company financing, Chinese based air-frames and components, and FAA regulations. In the absence of many of the drone meetings originally scheduled for this spring, the virtual opportunity to ask questions of drone industry leaders and engage in conversation was a welcome event
Randall Warnas, the global sUAS lead at FLIR, was the moderator and was the master of ceremonies for the Facebook Live event. The entire two hours is worth listening to, but here are some of the highlights.
Drone Technology’s “Breakout Moment”
Covid-19, and it’s effect on commercial drone applications, was an obvious topic. Dan Burton of Dronebase said that Covid-19 presents a breakout moment for drone technology, as unmanned systems by their nature provide remote services that require less human interaction. “Drones provide a faster, more affordable, better and safer way to do business,” said Burton.
DJI‘s Romeo Durscher spoke to the fact that there are two segments to the drone industry. “The consumer side has been affected, as people have not been able to go out and fly drones,” said Durscher. On the enterprise side, results have been mixed: “Many companies are taking advantage of drone technologies…. but the pandemic has taken its toll on the industry,” Durscher commented.
Despite – or because – of the current crisis, new applications are continuing to develop: FLIR’s Brett Kanda mentioned that there have been a flurry of great ideas and new uses for drones, including temperature monitoring sensors and an accelerated path for drone delivery.
Drone Investment, Foreign Drones and the FAA
On the topic of drone investment and financing, the Unmanned Leadership Forum was not as optimistic: in general, the group saw less financing occurring due to the general slowdown in the pandemic.
DJI’s Brendan Shulman responded to questions on how Chinese companies such as DJI have been “swept into a political moment,” saying that targeting drone companies based on country of origin stifles global innovation – and does no benefit to anyone in the drone industry.
Regulation was also addressed, with concerns that some progress in regulation has stalled. Flights over people and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), for example, have yet to be implemented in what some panelists called “a
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