Pandemic-fueled innovation: an overview of recent drone delivery breakthroughs

We’ve written previously about how the pandemic has accelerated the development of drone solutions for contact-free delivery, surveillance, enforcement, and hygiene applications.

We’ve gone so far as to suggest that progress in drone medical delivery solutions might be quickly followed by progress in retail delivery solutions. Over the past several weeks, we’ve seem to be seeing this play out, with multiple major retailers reaching new milestones in their drone delivery programs and an uptick in public support for drone delivery.

In this article, I’ll summarize these exciting developments.

An uptick in demand and regulatory cooperation

Before COVID-19, the research firm MarketsandMarkets estimated that drone delivery (both air and ground-based) would generate revenue of around $800M in 2020.

More recently, the firm has updated those estimates to $1 billion and has revised its forecast for 2022 from $1.6 to $2.2 billion. According to the Economist, many other analysts agree with these estimates.

On top of this, regulators have been more flexible than ever in granting exemptions and authorizations for drone delivery programs. For instance, in Canada, authorities have given authorization to a coalition of companies who are using drones to safely supply the remote Beausoleil First Nation and other First Nations.

Similarly, in April, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration granted exemptions to its commercial drone prohibitions to 30 companies. And in March, the UK, government allocated millions to support the development of drone delivery solutions that would serve the Isle of Wight during the pandemic. 

Moving past these general trends, let’s take a look at some “success stories” about global leaders in retail that seem to be accelerating their delivery programs during these challenging times.

Amazon

On Aug. 29, Amazon finally received federal approval to operate its fleet of Prime Air delivery drones. According to the FAA, the approval will give Amazon broad privileges to “safely and efficiently deliver packages to customers.”

While the Prime Air fleet isn’t ready to immediately deploy drone deliveries at scale, representatives say that it is actively flying and testing the technology.

Walmart

On Sept. 9, Walmart launched a pilot project which will focus on delivering select grocery and household essential items from Walmart stores using the Israeli firm Flytrex’s automated drones in Fayetteville, N.C. 

Representatives at the world’s biggest retailer have been tight-lipped on details of the program, so it’s not clear how many drones are involved in the pilot and what checks (if any) customers need to make before receiving a delivery.

That said, Flyrex boasts that its delivery drones are the optimal solution for suburb environments, so it would follow that remote customers or city-dwellers might not be the best candidates to test the service at this stage of development.

While this type of delivery solution has been tested since 2015, and thus cannot be fully attributed to the pandemic, there are a few use cases that Walmart seems to have launched directly in response to COVID-19.

On Sept. 22, Walmart announced a partnership with Quest Diagnostics and DroneUp, whereby it would perform deliveries of COVID-19 test collection kits in North Las Vegas (in September) and Cheektowaga, New York (in early October.)

The program will serve eligible patients who live in a single-family residence within a 1-mile radius of the designated Supercenters in North Las Vegas and Cheektowaga. And given that Walmart owns the UK supermarket chain Asda, it has been suggested that the solutions could expand to the UK. 

Beyond that, according to Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice president of consumer products, Walmart hopes that drone delivery of self-collection kits “will shape contactless testing capabilities on a larger scale and continue to bolster the innovative ways Walmart plans to use drone delivery in the future.” 

Walgreens and Wing

Walgreens and Wing, (owned by Alphabet, Google’s parent company), have been partnering since September 2019 to test “store to door” delivery of products via drone.

As part of this partnership, Wing has been delivering “health and wellness, food and beverage and convenience items” to Walgreens customers in Christiansburg, Va. 

Once the pandemic hit, the company expanded their offering to meet the residents’ mounting needs. Their offerings now include more kid-friendly products like crayons, markers and games; food staples such as pasta, canned soup and mac and cheese; and household cleaning supplies such as facial tissue and, you guessed it, toilet paper.

For Christiansburg residents, the drone delivery service had already been a novelty, but many families reported that once the pandemic hit, it became a source of entertainment, inspiration, and distraction for antsy kids and worried parents alike.

Some families reported ordering a weekly lunch from Walgreens, and others said they ordered things they didn’t really need simply for an excuse to watch a drone come to their house. 

Anecdotes aside, Wing reports that its drone delivery orders in Virginia and Australia rose precipitously when stay-at-home orders were put in place in March and April. Since Wing has been met with privacy concerns and noise complaints by certain residents in Canberra, Australia, one of its first test sites, the rapid increase in demand suggests that the company is finally winning the public over there.

Tesco and Manna Aero

Meanwhile Tesco, the UK’s biggest retailer, is working with Manna, a drone delivery startup based in Dublin, Ireland, to kick off a six-month drone delivery trial starting in October .

The trial will consist of delivering “small baskets” of essentials from its Oranmore store in Co Galway, Ireland, where Manna has a license to operate. Ultimately, Tesco representatives claim that the aim is to develop the capability of delivering these small baskets to customers within 30 minutes to an hour of ordering, a capability which the company thinks will expand their reach to include potential customers for whom getting to the store is inconvenient or difficult.

Manna, for its part, had planned a takeaway food delivery trial in March but changed its focus to medicines during the coronavirus pandemic. Since April, it has been working with the Health Service Executive to deliver medicines and other essential supplies to vulnerable people in the small rural town of Moneygall.

The Path Forward

There are two key mechanisms through which the pandemic seems to be accelerating the development and deployment of drone delivery solutions. 

First, because the pandemic has made contactless delivery a necessity, not just a nice-to-have feature, it is leading to the resolution (or at least temporary suspension) of technical and regulatory blockers to progress. 

Second, the pandemic is providing a fantastic PR opportunity to retailers that want to promote their drone delivery solutions and develop goodwill with the public.

By accelerating the development and social acceptance of drone delivery services, the pandemic seems to be helping retailers, regulators, and drone solutions providers to kick drone delivery up a notch.

Hopefully, they can maintain momentum once the pandemic is over.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Secure, but not safe?

The tension between firefighting drones and national drone security regulations.

It’s no secret that North America – and the west coast of the U.S. in particular – has had a particularly bad wildfire season this year.

As of September 29,  70 active fires have burned over 3.9 million acres across the United States, and evacuation orders across the west coast remain in place near 17 large fires.

And that’s just active fires. The US National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reports that, to date, there have been 4,091 wildfires which have burned 7.4 million acres across the country.

That’s over 1 million more acres burned than the 10-year average. 

Although the ultimate solution to this problem likely lies in more sustainable housing development, better forest management, power infrastructure upgrades, and other regulatory and business measures, drones can play a critical role in mitigating some of the damage that forest fires cause.

Unfortunately, policymakers and drone operators haven’t yet figured out how to balance national security concerns with an optimally effective fire response.

What are drones doing to help forest fire responses?

Over the years, drones have come to play an important role in the detection, containment, and extinguishing of forest fires, primarily by providing firefighters with accurate data.

Equipped with LiDAR, infrared cameras, and other sensors, drones can map fire-prone areas and, in the event of a fire, capture data on fire spread/speed, heat concentration, smoke, and other variables, all of which can be combined to help predict where a fire will move next.

This helps decision-makers make more strategic choices on firefighting, and evacuation, and other response factors.

Where are they doing this?

All over the West.

But here are some examples:

  • In Colorado, firefighters are using drones to deploy “Dragon Eggs” —  small explosives that combat wildfires by eating up the wildfire’s fuel. 
  • Near the Big Hollow wildfire in Washington, the FAA granted pilots of Verizon subsidiary Skyward, a temporary waiver from September 23 to 25, that allows them to fly the Percepto Sparrow drone from their homes to inspect critical communications infrastructure. The waiver lets them do this 24 hours a day, with less than 3 miles of visibility, and no pilot or observer on site. 
  • The Los Angeles Fire Department has been using drones to go where flame retardant-dropping planes and helicopters can’t go since at least 2017.

So how are regulations getting in the way?

In January this year, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) grounded its 810-drone fleet and stopped procuring Chinese-made drones over concerns that information about critical infrastructure could be leaked to the Chinese government. 

This move was in alignment with the proposed American Security Drone Act of 2020, which seeks to ban federal departments and agencies from purchasing any commercial off-the-shelf drone or small unmanned aircraft system manufactured or assembled in China or other countries identified for national-security concerns. 

It would seem that security comes at a cost, however. An internal memo from the department’s Office of Aviation Services, leaked to The Financial Times, says the decision is hampering the DOI’s ability to fight wildfires.

Although technically DOI still allows its drones to be used for emergency situations like disaster monitoring, the memo suggests that decision has stymied necessary measures that would have equipped the fleet to effectively fight fires.

How so?

According to the memo, by the end of 2020,  the department will only have carried out 28 percent of the controlled burning it could have done had it followed through on its plan to purchase 17 new Ignis systems, which work with heavy-lift machines like DJI’s M600 Matrice and are used to start controlled fires

Without them, the internal memo says the department has had to either use aircraft manned by firefighters — putting lives at risk — or not carried out the burning at all.

“Denying the acquisition of UAS [drone] aerial ignition devices directly transfers risk to firefighters who must use manned aircraft to complete these missions rather than a safer option utilizing UAS,” the memo states.

Will this impact other federal agencies?

Quite possibly.

In letters written in September 2019 and obtained by The New York Times, Stephen L. Censky, the deputy secretary of the Department of Agriculture, told the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget that the agency had major concerns with the law.

Censky wrote that the American Drone Security Act would “severely impact the establishment, development and implementation” of the Agriculture Department’s drone program “to carry out our mission-crucial work.”

Surely there is another side to the story.

Absolutely.

While DJI has decried the move to ban Chinese drones as a “protectionist ploy to exclude successful competitors in favor of domestic suppliers that don’t exist,” and a threat to forest conservation, the decision to ban Chinese-manufactured drones was based on more than protectionism.


Federal officials have been saying that they are worried that DJI drones are sending data back to China as early as 2017, although DJI has firmly denied this accusation. In that same year, the Army banned its employees from using DJI products.

There seems to be a strong, bipartisan belief that the ban is necessary to prevent the Chinese government from seeing what the United States government is seeing through DJI drone flights.

What now?

While it may be too late to turn things around for the wildfires of 2020, if the act makes it through the legislative process, all is not lost for firefighting drone efforts.

On a federal level, it all comes down to whether or not it’s viable to replace the Chinese-manufactured drones in agency fleets with drones manufactured in the U.S. or an allied country.

Currently, the supply chain for materials and components does not support an adequately scaled production of comparable platforms in the United States.

For instance, the California startup, Skydio, makes its drones in the U.S. but still uses some Chinese parts. Its chief executive, Adam Bry, told the New York Times in February that all the core components were American, and that the company was moving away from using the Chinese parts altogether.

Similarly, Paris-based drone manufacturer Parrot is set to release its latest platform, ANAFI USA.

The drone is said to be manufactured in the U.S., and designed with the needs of first responders, firefighters, search-and-rescue teams, security agencies, surveying and inspection professionals, in mind. And, it has a sensor and software ecosystem that features 32x zoom, 4K HDR video, and thermal imaging capabilities. 

On a state and local level, things may be (for the time being at least) simpler.

The American Drone Security Act of 2020 doesn’t seem to prohibit procurement of Chinese-manufactured drones by non-federal agencies, meaning that the L.A. Fire Department, which has a strong working relationship with DJI and was looking to double its fleet of firefighting drones in 2019, will likely be able to carry on with their procurements and possibly use the pending legislation to pressure Chinese manufacturers to take greater measures to assure them of data security. 

Regardless of the fate and implication of the Drone Security Act of 2020, it highlights a tension between safety, security, and affordability, and shows that “drones for good” use cases are the product of difficult decisions and compromise. 

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

3 Reasons Drones Improve Infrastructure Inspections

The global economy depends on the vast network of infrastructure which connects goods and services in the marketplace to customers.

Roads, railways, bridges, power plants, wind turbines, solar farms, and more are vital to meeting our energy needs and fueling commerce.

The cost to maintain these critical structures can be staggering. For example, in the United States, the government spends well over $400 billion annually on infrastructure alone. A significant portion of that spend goes toward inspection, maintenance, and repairing existing structures.

Even more alarming than the cost is the age and health of these structures.

Like many countries, the United States is facing a crisis concerning rapidly degrading infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the U.S. will need to spend $4.5 trillion by 2025 to fix it.

Traditional methods of infrastructure inspection rely heavily on placing people in harm’s way to complete the task.

Structures such as wind turbines and bridges place people at dangerous heights and around moving parts that can cause injury or death. Personnel exposed to working at heights often have some of the highest fatality rates for work-related deaths.

Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology has advanced far enough to replace human involvement in many of these precarious situations, while often producing better results. Here’s how.

The Benefits of Drone Inspections

Safety

 

Improved safety is perhaps the most significant benefit of using drones for inspections.

When conducting an assessment, inspectors use various tools to detect stresses in materials, surface temperatures, and other factors to determine the physical and functional condition of a given structure.

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Before industries began using drones, most inspection methods put people in harm’s way. In some cases, such as the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, areas that required thorough, periodic examinations were far too dangerous for workers.

Drones ably move into dangerous areas, including radioactive environments, and collect the information needed without ever posing a risk to humans

 

Speed

 

Typical infrastructure inspections may take weeks or even months to plan and schedule, and they may require shutdowns and delays.

For example, if a bridge requires an inspection for evidence of cracks in concrete supports, you’ll need additional equipment, such as hydraulic lifts, to complete the task. And, you’ll likely need to close off that bridge for the inspection team’s safety, thus causing traffic delays.

Once you schedule an inspection team, rent heavy equipment, and work with government officials to get clearances, you’re already be behind schedule and over budget. Of course, that’s all in addition to the aforementioned safety concerns.

The use of drones eliminates all of those issues. With a certified remote pilot and the right UAS technology, you’ll mitigate those risks and quickly get the job done on your terms.

Advanced Technology and Data Collection

 

Inspections at most facilities, such as solar farms, require more than just visual observation.

Photographs in the visible spectrum might identify some issues, but completely miss others. Technologies, such as Thermal imaging, LiDAR, and sometimes multispectral imaging, provide powerful information. For example, you’ll immediately know when a solar cell is no longer functioning properly.

Many drones swap out payloads or have built-in dual-camera systems (i.e. Parrot Anafi Thermal). These features allow inspectors to collect numerous data points for further analysis in just a single drone flight.

There’s also the quality of UAV optics and other hardware, which allows for more precise inspection of hard to reach locations.

Optics have grown from small cameras producing grainy images to dynamic image-collecting devices with extensive zoom capabilities. Standard UAV cameras capture images 20MP or larger, and can take video in 4K or better.

Hardware improvements on GPS receivers, visual sensors, and infrared sensors have made obstacle-avoidance systems extraordinarily reliable, even indoors. Battery improvements are also advancing, as some drones are capable of hour-plus flight durations on a single charge.

Combined, the precision optics and reliable hardware provide inspectors with more precise, detailed data.

Drone inspection thermal imaging

Bringing It All Together

When it comes to infrastructure inspections, UAV technology has provided innovation across numerous industries.

With increased safety, enhanced data collection, higher quality data, and greater versatility, you’ll get more done safely, and with less disruption.

Of course, drone inspections require more than just buying the equipment and taking to the skies. You’ll need certified remote pilots and industry-specific training, plus operation and safety guidelines.

With Consortiq, we take care of the hard work for you. We’ll help you create a course of action based on your needs, from operational support and use cases, to ongoing training programs. If you’re not interested in starting your own drone program, we’ll conduct the inspections for you, when you need them.

Save time, limit risk, and get the information you need with Consortiq!

For a risk-free quote, or to schedule a consultation with a team member, just complete the form below, or call us at 1-855-203-8825 (U.S. office) | +44 (0)208 0450 322 (UK office).

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Start Your Drone Inspections? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Drones Help Precision Agriculture Take off in Australia

Climate change has made life hard for Australian farmers.

From record-setting bushfires to droughts, farmers have lost up to 20% of their profits over the past 20 years due to environmental factors.

With the pandemic-driven disruptions to the global economy, you might think that 2020 has been yet another year of hard hits for Aussie farmers.

Yet, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) forecasted that the winter crop yield will be 44.5 million tonns in 2020–21, which is 11 percent above the average annual level of the past ten years.

What's Going On Here? More Rain in 2020?

It’s true that 2020 hasn’t been quite as brutal as 2019, the hottest and driest year on record for Australia.

But rainfall across Australia was 43% below average in July, so that doesn’t seem to be the biggest thing that has changed. A more likely cause for this accomplishment is that Australia’s farmers improved with precision agriculture over the past few years.

And, as you might guess, drones played a key role in making that possible. 

Drones Improving Agriculture? How So?

The goal of precision agriculture is to optimize returns on inputs while preserving resources like water and chemicals.

To do that, farmers must be able to observe, measure, and respond to tiny variations of outcomes in their crops. For example, Queensland farmers use drones to map their fields of macadamia trees, identify unhealthy ones, and spray the trees at highest risk with fungicide and fertilizer to give them a boost.

According to the drone-manufacturing company XAG, these methods helped Australian farmers reduce water use by up to 90% and chemical use by up to 30%. That’s compared to the status-quo method of using tractor-mounted spray cannons as a spray tool for pest and disease management in macadamia orchards.

XAG drones are also being used to map hard-to-reach locations and drop seeds to restore empty fields.

What Types of Drones are Being Used For Precision Agriculture?

It really depends on the use case.

As a general rule of thumb, fixed-wing UAVs are the best when you want to cover a lot of ground. Alternatively, multirotors are better-suited to precision imaging of small or constrained areas and 3-D scanning of fields and objects, due to their maneuverability. 

When it comes to size, large drones tend to be more costly than small drones, but they’re also more weather-proof and better suited for large areas of coverage. Meanwhile, smaller drones tend to be better suited for activities requiring greater precision; as we’ve noted in another article,

Additionally, Japanese farmers have developed insect-sized drones to pollinate plants as bees do. 

In Australia, farmers and drone-as-a-service (DaaS) companies seem to use a variety of platform sizes and types. For example, Oztech Drones, a Queensland-based DaaS company, uses a 40-kg quadcopter for seeding, and smaller, [fixed-wing] surveying drones for mapping. 

Is Satellite Imagery Likely to Replace Drone Imagery Any Time Soon?

While many farmers use both types, satellite imagery and drone imagery have their pros and cons.

Because drones take a lot of time to survey a large plot of land, satellite companies make compelling offerings for frequent updates on macro-trends.

For instance, Planet Labs, a firm in San Francisco, keeps a fleet of about 30 mini-satellites (measuring a few centimeters across) in orbit. This allows it to provide fresh data to farmers at a relatively affordable rate, though the imagery has a resolution per pixel of only 3.5 meters (about ten feet).

Fitted with the right sensors, drones offer much better resolution, but it’s not usually cost-effective for farmers to gather drone data as frequently as they would like.

What is the Future of Precision Agriculture in Australia?

Right now, it seems like many farmers rely on DaaS companies to perform key precision agriculture functions, but that might change.

Most of Australia’s DaaS companies today are small businesses.

It’s unlikely that they’re working at a large enough scale to offer low prices for their services while still making a profit.

DaaS is appealing to farmers who are in the “experimental” phase of using drone technology, and aren’t ready to invest in an expensive platform and sensors. However, water scarcity might make precision farming more than just a competitive advantage … instead, it may become an absolute necessity.

In that case, it seems like farmers might decide to develop in-house drone solutions

However, if DaaS providers manage to scale up their offerings enough to ensure good quality and prices, it might make more sense for farmers to just just pay someone to provide drones solutions for them.

It’s worth noting that drones are just part of the picture. True, forward-thinking farmers are integrating IoT sensors, satellite data, and other data sources, into their strategies, as each offers unique pros and cons.

The quality and cost of data from these other sources will likely directly impact the role that drones play in data-gathering activities in the future. However, even if IoT sensors and satellites could provide all of the necessary data, farmers would still need a cost-effective method of administering water, insecticide, and fungicide to the plants in need.

And, drones seem particularly well-suited to do just that. 

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Drones to Detect Jellyfish For Nuclear Power Plant

Last month, the UK government’s Drones Pathfinder Programme announced the addition of a new project to its portfolio.

The project, led by Cranfield University and EDF Energy, will assess the feasibility of using unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for the early detection of marine hazards near coastal industries, particularly nuclear power stations.

What Problem is the Project Trying to Solve?

Basically, a lot of seaweed, jellyfish, fish and other marine wildlife get caught in the cooling systems of nuclear power plants in what is commonly called “marine ingress.”

Marine ingress damages nuclear plant machinery and disrupts power generation, which threatens the stability of the energy grid. For example, in 2011, EDF Energy’s Torness nuclear power plant in Scotland was forced to shut down twice in one week because of jellyfish incursions, and it lost about $1.5 million revenue per day.

From an ecological standpoint, ingress is equally concerning. For instance, a 2005 study of 11 coastal power plants in Southern California estimated that in 2003, a single nuclear plant killed close to 3.5 million fish.

While better filtration, use of innovative technology, such as “bubble curtains,” and well-timed shutdowns, can minimize the negative impact of marine ingress. All of these measures are costly and currently administered less precisely than would be ideal.

How Will UAS Help?

Scientists at the University of Cranfield believe that routine wide-area data capture by drones could improve nuclear plants’ early warning systems, which would allow for more timely adjustment of water-cooling mechanisms in response.

According to Angus Bloomfield, a marine biology consultant at EDF, simply improving the early warning system could enable power plants to “avoid the most dramatic effects these [marine ingress] events can bring.” 

To test this idea out, Cranfield University and its partners will first seek to optimize wide-area UAS monitoring protocols using statistical and mathematical techniques, as well as perform an academic review of the benefits of Extended Visual Line of Sight (EVLOS) / BVLOS operations within the context of marine ingress detection.

Next, they will conduct BVLOS UAS trials near an EDF nuclear power station to detect jellyfish and kelp blooms and publish their results for the benefit of other nuclear plant operators, innovators, and researchers.

How Might This Study Impact the Drone Industry?

Nuclear power accounts for an estimated 21% of the U.K’s electricity,  20% of the U.S.’s, and 10% of global electricity.

Although many countries are phasing out nuclear power generation, it’s likely to remain a big industry for many years to come, so mitigating a major pain point could increase demand for drone solutions, as well as funding for further research and development. 

If the use-case proves popular in the U.S., where nuclear power plants are deemed to be critical infrastructure that is vulnerable to espionage, solutions will have to be developed with platforms manufactured domestically or in allied countries.

In this sense, an increase in demand for UAS solutions in the nuclear power sector may benefit domestic drone manufacturers in countries where the solutions are implemented, and shift the commercial drone market share away from DJI. 

Additionally, like airports, nuclear power companies will need to integrate their UAS solutions with effective security and counter-drone systems, given past instances of unidentified UAS swarms around power plants that have raised questions about nuclear plant vulnerability to terrorist drones and (more likely) drone-enhanced espionage

These are indirect effects which are conditional on the program’s success and widespread adoption – two developments which remain in the medium to long-term future.

For now, all that we know is that yet another promising UAS solution is being developed, and that it will be worth following the project to see what happens.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Trump Administration Changes UAS Export Policy

On Friday, July 24, the Trump Administration announced an update to the 2018 Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Export Policy, which makes it easier for U.S. manufacturers to export certain types of UAS to foreign allies and partners. 

UAS Export Policy? Tell Me More...

Since 1987, the United States and 35 other countries have voluntarily adhered to the international nuclear nonproliferation export guidelines of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR.)

The MTCR is designed to limit the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapon delivery systems and related technology, and suggests different levels of export restriction for different two categories of potential exports.

Cateogry I” items, which include ballistic missiles and nuclear-capable cruise missiles, are considered to be the most risky, and MTCR recommends that partner governments should have “a strong presumption to deny” technology transfers through the export of Category I items, regardless of their purpose, though it allows for exports of “rare occasions.” 

Meanwhile, the MTCR suggests a more liberal approach to authorizing exports of Category II items, which include less sensitive and dual-use, missile-related components. 

Currently, MTCR classifies UAS that are capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kg to a range of at least 300 km, along with their major complete subsystems and related software and technology, to be Category I, while UAS that don’t meet that criteria are classified as Category II

So, What's the Trump Administration Changing?

The new UAS export policy reclassifies a subset of UAS with a maximum airspeed of fewer than 800 kilometers per hour to the less strict “Category II.”

This means that it will be slightly easier to export these types of UAS. 

Why Did They Do That?

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany stated that the MTCR’s standards, which are over 30 years old, are outdated and give an unfair industry advantage to countries outside of the MTCR (namely China) while hurting the U.S. drone industry and “handicapping U.S. partners and allies with subpar technology.”

This is in line with a 2017 RAND Corporation study, which argued that restrictions on shipping armed and unarmed drones to foreign customers, such as Jordan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, have left U.S. manufacturers at a disadvantage, effectively ceding much of the market to China.  

The Trump administration has been trying to convince MTCR partners to multilaterally adjust the classification since April 2018 but, due to lack of consensus, Trump has decided to change the U.S.’s adherence. 

Will the U.S. Regain Its Share of the International Drone Market?

Some have argued that it’s too late to turn the tide, as the Chinese share of the military drone market has grown a lot, particularly in Africa.

But, there have been reports of Chinese-made drones, such as the CH-4B “Rainbow” Predator-knockoff, performing so badly that the Air Forces that bought them ended up selling off parts of their fleets.

On top of that, European countries remain wary of using Chinese drones for classified military purposes. This means that there is likely still time for U.S. manufacturers to regain lost ground.

What Else Could Happen?

First, the good news: Lifting these export restrictions could improve R&D for drone manufacturing in the U.S.

The previously mentioned RAND study suggests that excessive export controls have stymied UAS research, both in companies and other research organizations, such as universities. The benefits of this R&D could spill over into commercial drone manufacturing, especially for drones designed to perform long-duration operations in harsh environmental conditions.

 

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The bad news is that this could exacerbate tension between the U.S. and China. In particular, less than two weeks after the new policy was announced, the U.S. began negotiating the sale of at least four of its large “SeaGuardian” aerial drones to Taiwan for the first time.

The deal still has to be approved by Congress, but if it goes through, it would feed into what the New York Times, calls a campaign by national security officials “to set the United States on a long-term course of competition and confrontation with China.” 

This Sounds Like a Big Game-Changer

Sort of.

Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews has stated that the DoD is “fully supportive of implementing all aspects of this Administration’s updated UAS policy,” but stressed that “particularly sensitive components and subsystems [still] must be sold via Foreign Military Sales (FMS), as is the case for sensitive components and subsystems for manned aircraft sales.”

It’s important to bear in mind that other regulatory frameworks, such as the Arms Export Control Act, impose restrictions on the exports of UAS, so the outcomes of this policy change, while nontrivial, may not be as sweeping as they seem. For more information, check out the updated U.S. Policy on the Export of Unmanned Aerial Systems.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

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3 Reasons To Use Drone Consultants For Your Business

Governments, businesses, and other organizations worldwide are benefiting from Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology.

The disruptive nature of drones has taken many industries by storm. Construction, mining, agricultural, utilities, and more are looking to UAV solutions and reaping the rewards.

Many tasks, such as mapping or inspections, within each sector of the economy mentioned above, are labor-intensive, expensive, and sometimes dangerous. UAVs are proving themselves to provide better results than traditional methods, often at a lower cost and in less time. The efficacy of drones as a force multiplier is fueling explosive growth in the UAS industry.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, as of Aug. 11, 2020, there are over 1.6 million registered drones in the United States. Almost one-third of that number represents drones in commercial operations.

Now is an excellent time to consider how UAV technology can benefit your organization. As with any significant decision, it is always advisable to consult experts in the field. Drones offer many benefits, but to gain the most from the technology, it is best to discuss available options, and even regulations, with drone consultants.

There are three reasons working with drone consultants is beneficial for most entities.

First, drone consultants bring with them a wide range of experience in the field. The best firms have international experience in the industry. Second, consultants can design UAS solutions that fit each organization’s specific needs. Finally, the best firms will help strengthen and grow UAS solutions, as needed.

Let’s break it all down.

Drone Consultants Have Experience

The rapid growth of the UAV industry means the technology is always changing.

Additionally, it means the regulations surrounding the operation of drones is also changing, and they’re different all around the world. While drones have been around for decades as military platforms, it was only in 2010 when Paris-based drone manufacturer Parrot introduced the first consumer drone to the market.

By 2015, over 6.4 million consumer drones were shipped globally. By 2021, that number will have grown to 67.6 million. Growth of this nature is complex and requires experts to understand the rapid change.

Drone consultancy firms are staffed with professionals who have years of experience in both aviation and unmanned vehicles. Many are pilots of crewed aircraft that have a unique understanding of aerial operations.

In-depth knowledge of UAV hardware and software allows drone consultants to recommend ideal solutions for specific needs.

The most reliable firms are international. Organizations such as NGOs, for example, may need to use drones in multiple countries. Experts in international drone consultancy firms understand the rules and regulations related to different regions.

Consultants keep organizations operating legally while maximizing the benefits of drone integration.

They Offer Tailor-Made Solutions

No two businesses or organizations are the same.

UAS consultants start by learning the needs of a business, then act as a guide by investigating how drones can address those needs.

Drones come in all shapes and sizes. Many are quadcopters, but there are plenty of fixed-winged drones as well. UAV payloads can support anything from standard cameras to more advanced systems, such as LiDAR. Understanding the equipment is essential to employing it properly.

Consultants use their experience to recommend the best platform for each desired result. Choosing a platform is only the beginning, though. If an organization is developing an in-house drone program, it will need training on how to operate its drones safely.

Consultants provide a complete solution … not just a packaged drone kit sold to everyone.

Drone Consultants Grow With You

As an established drone program grows, organizations will need support.

Training related to passing the Part 107 remote pilot exam, and actually flying, are only the beginning. There will always be a need for additional training. Whether that training is designed to maintain skills or expand capabilities, experts can provide the appropriate courses.

Consultants can also help with establishing standard operating procedures, developing in-house trainers, a fit-for-purpose UAS operations manual and training, and applying for waivers – such as the daylight waiver that allows you to fly after sunset.

There is no reason to risk litigation or safety incidences due to a lack of understanding of the technology.

Utilizing drone consultants’ strengths to grow an operation safely within local regulations is the best course of action. Expert opinions can recommend training that will keep the benefits coming while mitigating any potential pitfalls. The experience these firms bring with them is worth the investment for most operations.

Bringing It All Together

Utilizing drone consultants’ strengths to grow an operation safely within local regulations is the best course of action.

Expert can recommend training that will keep the benefits coming, while also mitigating any potential pitfalls. The experience these firms bring with them is worth the investment for most operations.

Thinking about using a drone consultant for your business? From operations manual evaluation & support to hardware evaluation, UAS training framework and drone safety audits, we’re here to help!

Complete the form below to schedule a consultation today!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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Energy Drone + Robotics Virtual Summit 2020 with Consortiq

Bryan McKernan, Consortiq’s chief revenue officer, and Bryce Allcorn, Consortiq’s head of global operations, discuss the Consortiq business model, drone uses and services, and how to achieve industry success with drone data at the 2020 Energy Drone + Robotics Virtual Summer Summit

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These 4 Municipalities Advanced With Drone Technology

Municipalities around the world are exploring the benefits of UAV technology. In a study conducted by Goldman Sachs Research, the drone sector’s fastest growth opportunity centers on civil governments and businesses. Between 2016 and 2020, this segment of the industry will have spent $13 billion on drone acquisitions.

Drones offer city planners and administrators improved efficiencies and cost savings. UAVs are becoming indispensable tools for local governments to serve in roles across law enforcement, pandemic response, public safety, and others. As public opinion continues to improve, drones use will expand to an even more extensive range of tasks.

The rapid spread of drones, internationally, has cities around the world reporting positive results in testing and application.

1. Baltimore, Maryland - United States

Initially, public opinion of drones voiced concerns over invasion of privacy and dangers to crewed aircraft.

While some of these concerns were valid, improved legislation and awareness are mitigating much of the fear people had when drones started to become commonplace. As the public’s view improves, cities must decide if UAV technology benefits outweigh these concerns. In many cases, they do.

From the city of Annapolis using drones in 2017 to access traffic patterns to Howard County’s police force’s current operations, Maryland is embracing drones. Howard County’s drone program is larger than any other policy agency’s UAV program in the state. Drones have already helped in searches and crash investigations with great success.

2. Southampton - United Kingdom

The coronavirus has had a devastating impact across the world. As scientists and medical professionals look for vaccines and treatments, the UAV community is helping to keep people safe.

The Solent Transport partnership includes the Hampshire County Council, Portsmouth City Council, Southampton City Council, and the Isle of Wight Council. The partnership has worked with the University of Southampton to test drones delivering medical supplies across the strait.

This is a pre-cursor to the Future Mobility Zones (FTZ) initiative that is due to start later this year. This 3-year, cross-organizational, multi-million pound regulation, infrastructure and technology project will see the Solent area become the UK’s first full functional “UTM,” pioneering routine Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) drone operations.

Gareth Beverley, Consortiq’s FTZ Programme Director said: “Consortiq has a fantastic opportunity to make a lasting improvement to our local area, and hopefully the wider UK. Our experience in drone operations, navigating regulations, training and software are all integral to the success of the FTZ drones initiative.”

The trial, a first of its kind, used Windracers ULTRA UAV to transport medical supplies to COVID patients on the Isla of Wight, the United Kingdom’s second-most populous island. Researchers and government officials hope to increase efficiency, decrease the transportation time for medical supplies in the region, and reduce costs.

3. Dubai - United Arab Emirates

Just like the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates is seeking help from drones in the fight against COVID. The city of Dubai has been a significant supporter of drone technology. From drones for the police force to UAV taxis carrying humans, the city has embraced the UAV industry and continues to do so in the fight against COVID.

With a population of over 3.3 million, Dubai faces severe challenges from the virus. Public spaces are potential breed grounds for COVID and of great concern to city officials. Dubai is employing drones to sanitize large areas of the metropolis.

Drones designed initially for spraying pesticides in agriculture are now being repurposed for the task. The municipality is sterilizing 129 sites across the city and 23 public areas. The operation is part of a national sterilization program aimed at curbing the spread of COVID.

4. Ensenada - Mexico

A few years ago, the City of Ensenada purchased a single DJI Inspire 1 for their police force. With a population of just over 500,000 and covering 23.58 square miles, the city is one of Baja, California’s top tourist destinations.

From a control room, municipal police can operate the drone and direct it to the source of 911 emergency calls. The city has permission to fly their drone Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) from the Mexican air authorities. Video feeds from the drone can be view by command units and officers on the ground.

After just four months of implementation, the DJI Inspire 1 yielded impressive results. The drone aided in over 500 arrests. For most emergency 911 calls, the drone arrived before police officers. Even more impressive was a 30% decrease in robberies and an overall crime reduction by 10%.

Bringing It All Together - Drones & Municipalities

Municipalities deal with complex issues and fiscal challenges on a daily basis.

In financially challenging times, such as the current economic downturn from COVID, administrators and city officials should consider implementing drones into their operations. Exploring UAV technology is likely to result in cost savings and benefits well worth the time it takes to speak with a professional drone consultancy firm.

***

About Consortiq

Consortiq is a global market leader of custom drone solutions. Our employees are driven by a mission to help corporations and state organisations leverage drone technology to accelerate progress and achieve the success they desire. At Consortiq, we base our solutions on intensive quantitative and qualitative research, hard facts, and deep subject matter expertise. As a talented group of drone and manned aircraft pilots, software engineers, defense consultants, and former air traffic control professionals, Consortiq’s employees understand the intricacies of aerial platforms and are able to provide a wide range of nuanced, effective solutions. 

We have a strong track record of providing training, logistical operations planning, fleet management software, risk mitigation, and legal/regulatory services, to clients in the media, public infrastructure, and public safety industries in Europe, North America, and the Middle East.

Our accredited training program helps pilots prepare and go beyond the US Part 107 and the UK GVC

Need help developing a safe, compliant, and efficient program? Complete the form below to get started!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

How Total Uses Drones to Enhance Oil & Gas Operations

Using drones within the oil & gas sector isn’t always about inspection and surveying.

The number of applications are limitless, especially within an industry that has multiple sectors. All three major sectors (upstream, downstream and midstream) utilise UAV technology to assist with becoming carbon neutral; to reduce emission; and to become smarter & greener whilst enhancing preventative measures to reduce the total environmental cost. 

The major and super-major players all understand that they don’t always have the answers. However, they’re also receptive to new technology. But, the tech and subject-matter experts need to demonstrate the issue it will solve and the value it will bring.

Earlier this year at the Oil and Gas IoT Summit in Lisbon, it was stated that ‘the O&G industry needs new leaders from Generation X, and they need them now’ – citing that the major companies are being shown up by other large organisations, such as Google and Amazon, due to their lack of willingness to adopt new tech and their level of data understanding. 

RELATED ARTICLE: DRONES IN OIL & GAS – SAFE, FAST, EFFECTIVE

So, how can UAS technology be used to bridge the gap between implementing new tech from smaller organisations and improving the collection of data, regularly, repeatedly and reliably? 

The Case of Total: Drones and Data Acquisition

Total, one of the supermajor oil companies in the world, has been pushing these boundaries within this space for over five years. 

Total has their Multiphysics Exploration Technology Integrated System (METIS®), a system that aims to improve the quality and speed of data acquisition through real-time quality control and processing. An example of this uses autonomous drones and a ground vehicle to drop off and retrieve seismic sensors without human intervention.

METIS® technology is said to reduce the environmental footprint for onshore exploration and appraisal campaigns in harsh environments — such as the desert — which are tough on people and equipment.

Total focused on innovating seismic acquisition data back in 2016 to minimise surface impact of petroleum activities and improve the quality of sub-surface images. 

Smaller organisations ultimately help crunch the data,  produce ‘digital twins,’ or plan for preventative maintenance using software where the data has been collected by multiple means, including drone technology. These companies all work together to enable the oil and gas giants to reduce their total environmental cost. 

Another application that Total has been working on is HELPER, which stands for Human, Environment & Life Protection Emergency Response. It claims to be the world’s first autonomous multitasking drone dedicated to safety at sea, which can be deployed as a ‘local’ solution for responding immediately, 24/7. The specifications could give a manned aircraft a run for its money! 

Integrating Drone Technology into Your Business

Consortiq has first hand experience of being there for oil & gas companies who are attempting to explore new ways of using drone technology.

Recently, we trained a team in the United States to assist them in capturing the health of their seismic nodal sensors, similarly to Total. These sensors are out in oil and gas fields across the globe and, traditionally, this would have been a manual task of vehicles and people collecting the same data. The process is  labour-intensive, and it comes with high overhead costs. 

Around two-thirds of the world’s daily oil production comes from mature fields, and around 80% of these fields are located in the Middle East and North Africa. Understanding how to collect seismic data efficiently is important to oil and gas extraction and transportation, especially in the Middle East, where in this area alone has had 751 earthquakes over the past calendar year. Reducing time spent in receiving the data or understanding device status/health in an environment like this could save organisations thousands of dollars per year. 

From our experience, Consortiq believes that any organisation should be open to new ideas, share best practices within industry, embrace new ways, say “yes”  to new tech, and listen to the smaller companies. As it’s said, ‘if everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.’

About Consortiq

We are made up of experienced and passionate aviation and training professionals with both civil and military flying and ATM experience. As a UK CAA National Qualified Entity (NQE), soon to be a Recognised Assessment Entity (RAE), and an AUVSI Trusted Operator Programme (TOP) Level 3 organisation, we have a proven history of excellence in training and consultancy services. Safety is at the heart of everything we do.

Consortiq is the Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) division of The Diplomat Group of Companies (TDG), a 40-year-old company providing innovative logistics and transportation solutions to governments, commercial companies and NGO’s globally. Consortiq helps organizations throughout the world innovate with a specific focus on utilisation of UAS. We combine consulting, internationally-recognised, award-winning training and Drone as a Service (DaaS) model to enable our clients to safely scale their UAS operations from proof of concept to program roll out.

Consortiq maintains offices in the United States and the United Kingdom, and our clients are worldwide including the US, UK, South Africa, Canada, Ireland, Eastern Europe and South America. We also have support from the TDG Offices in Dubai, Djibouti, Somalia and other locations around the world.

Need expert-level support? Just complete the form below, or call us at 1-855-203-8825 (Americas) or +44 (0)208 0450 322 (Europe) to get started!

Lee Barfoot - Sales & Marketing EMEA at Consortiq

Lee Barfoot - Sales & Marketing EMEA at Consortiq

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!