Panel Discussion on Drones in Industry
Published by : Industrial Automation
Sharada Prahladrao presents a recap of a panel discussion on Drones in Industry held at the ARC Industry Forum in Orlando.
At the ARC Industry Forum in Orlando last year, a panel discussion was held on drones in industry. This discussion centred on the safety and regulatory standards, business justification, and future vision for deploying drones in various industry sectors.
The panellists who discussed drones: Stephen Luxion, Executive Director, ASSURE; Rick Rys, Senior Consultant, ARC Advisory Group.
Moderator: Steve Banker, Vice President, Supply Chain Management, ARC Advisory Group.
The panellists spoke from the vantage point of industry expertise and experience. They discussed the gap between regulatory policies and actual implementations, and responded to audience queries on various issues ranging from using drones on construction sites to future plans.
Background and context
Stephen Luxion began his military career flying fighter planes and later began flying UAVs. Now, he is the Executive Director of ASSURE (Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence) led by Mississippi State University. ASSURE is the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Centre of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). ASSURE provides the FAA a wide-ranging UAS research portfolio and conducts specific research funded by the FAA to help inform and address the key challenges to safely and efficiently integrating UAS into the National Airspace System.
Rick Rys has a strong background in industrial automation and has worked in refining, chemicals, power, and electric grid related functions. He has also done a lot of work in software development. At ARC he does research on drones and has done a study on drone use in the construction industry. He keeps track and stays on top of what's going on in various aspects of the drone automation industry.
The real and the hype in the drones industry
Mr Luxion said that everything that was earlier discussed about ground robotics maps directly to the issues faced in the air. But it is compounded by the complexity of flight and the level of safety. Because when the robot encounters a problem and is falling out of the sky, the situation is very different. Companies like Amazon have come up with creative ideas of how to be more efficient, but these have to be integrated into the National Airspace System.
Until the regulatory safety and risk issues are validated and proven, the FAA will not give the exemptions needed to operate, explained Mr Luxion. Visibility of other manned and unmanned aerial vehicles is critical in the air because the new UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) need to know what's behind and around them. These air traffic management technologies are currently being developed and standards of performance are coming out. The same issues apply to industry standards. “The visions are probably great, but we need more effort in freeing up that regulatory risk to get them there,” said Mr Luxion.
Adding to that, Mr Rys said that the inspection side of drones is more advanced than the delivery side. So, several times although drones were useful in detecting problems, they didn’t turn out to be a great fit. He cited the example of Duke Energy that had researched all the different things they could use drones for, but they said that it wasn’t effective for transmission and distribution due to line of sight regulations. Next, he spoke about the Part 107 regulations and the limitations it imposes.
Speaking about Automation Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) regulations, Mr Rys said that all piloted aircraft, helicopters, and planes are now required to broadcast their locations. Drones are being built that can pick up this broadcast and know the location of the other aircraft/planes. But this works only one way; i.e., the pilots don’t get the signals about the drone locations. Although there are reports of airports spotting drones, so far there is no two-way communication as that would overwhelm the traffic management.
“There are so many drones out there that would be broadcasting that they're not able to send their GPS coordinates,” said Mr Rys. The ideal scenario would be that each drone knows its own position in three dimensional space; broadcast that to other drones and aircraft pilots; and be part of a much larger unmanned traffic management system (UTM). “These things are simply not in place.”
Mr Banker added that drones are being used in warehouses for counting inventory, but the rationale behind that is unclear. Although a drone can see if the slot is open or not it cannot see how many things are in the slot. Whereas, an RFID is more expensive but is accurate too. Mr Luxion said that this is in the trial and experiment stage as drones are relatively inexpensive. The big players have started doing this, but what has deterred them are the regulatory restrictions. Mr Luxion said the big players will watch the market, acquire the winner, and move into the space with specific applications.
Responding to a question on the use of drones in the construction industry, Mr Rys said that it definitely is a big market, but again there are regulations to be followed. It’s also useful to figure out the inventory, and count the truckloads of material that come in, and monitor the project. He mentioned that farming is one of the biggest markets for drones. Mr Luxion said that in construction sites the UAVs provide an accurate 3D vision resulting in good RoI. In the area of public safety, ASSURE is also involved in dealing with natural and manmade disasters. For this, command and control issues, policies, etc., have to be sorted out.
Mr Banker asked about the startups (blimp companies) for cargo services. Mr Luxion said that these were not moving very quickly. “It could have been a failed experiment,” added Mr Rys. He recalled that there were some blimp programs after natural disasters to put up instant cell towers for network connectivity. “And there are blimps that are specially made for communications relay,” said Mr Luxion.
This panel discussion on drones highlighted the challenges, regulatory stipulations, safety concerns, and future vision. Demand for drones is growing in sectors, such as farming, construction, and aerospace and defence. Industries in the package delivery area see a huge opportunity once the UTM systems and safety standards are developed. Cutting-edge technologies and innovations drive this industry. The implementation phase takes a bit longer due to the mandatory regulations.
Sharada Prahladrao is editor and public relations manager at ARC India. She edits ARC's Global Market Outlook studies and co-authors ARC Strategy Reports and Insights. She has the innate ability to understand complex concepts and express them lucidly.