With over ten years experience in product management and marketing for various startups in the tech space, Eva is passionate about bringing new technology to market and has participating to several industry panels and talks. She currently drives a team of 15 engineers to bring innovative drone technology to a competitive UAV market with Squadrone System, a French based startup company.
Drones have been in the news for a few years. You can see them fly in your local parks. You’ve read about how Amazon plans to deliver packages with drones, or how Zipline delivers blood to Africans in need. Many consumer-facing companies and other organizations—even the U.S. government—are intensely working on drone programs to accelerate their businesses, gain productivity, and deliver higher-value services to customers.
The drone ecosystem has been flourishing with new companies in manufacturing and various services. However, there are still some major concerns preventing the massive deployment of drones for business or consumer use. Regulations need to evolve toward to satisfy everyone; safety and robustness need to be generally accepted (not feared anymore); and finally, like any product, if it’s too hard to use, does it really bring value? Ease of use is key to general adoption.
Although consumers have been rushing to buy drones, and are flying them in your local park or above your head as you hike in the mountains, drones are still under restrictive rules of usage. They cannot be used in cities, national parks or near airports, and even local agencies restrict usage on their territory. AirMap is reflecting most of the no-fly zones on their app, and the U.S. government is putting effort into making consumers more aware and comply with the law, asking everybody to register their device, follow safety rules and respect people’s privacy. AirMap aims at setting low-altitude airspace management for UAVs in order to make flying easier and safer for all.
On the commercial side, the brand-new Part 107 from the department of transportation and FAA just made it a lot easier to take advantage of drones’ business capabilities. No more piloting license is required or filing for an exemption, which was a lengthy process for all parts.
We should therefore see more and more drones flying around for commercial purposes, and due to regulational flexibility, the pressure of businesses willing to use drones to deliver high-value services (remember Amazon’s proposal for air traffic segmentation?) and the emergence of UAV ecosystem players pushing for more widespread usage, there is no doubt that drones will become easier and easier to fly.
Safety and robustness
Having an increasing amount of UAVs above our heads is fine as long as they don’t harm anyone, but it remains a major concern. Beyond privacy, you might remember the nearly fatal drone fall during the Ski World Championship last winter, falling right behind a skier on the slopes. Drones were forbidden to fly in Rio around the Olympic games areas. You may also find all over the Internet videos of drones falling from the sky or inexplicably flying away. It is critical that the industry works toward making its systems unable to fail, under any condition, if they are to be accepted by the general public, and most generally to be safe to be around.
Devices need to be reliable and solid inside out: materials, components and architecture, just as much as their brain, as they become more and more intelligent.
Failsafe behaviors, which are pre-programmed actions that will happen in case of an unplanned situation, are critical and too often neglected by too many manufacturers looking at penetrating the market as fast as possible. But this could cost a lot to the whole industry. Fortunately, industry-leading manufacturers are integrating these features as they understand the need to overcome this fear to reach mass-market adoption.
Additionally, beyond the failure events, a stringent system of quality is required. Just like civil aviation requires very strict development procedures, similar development methodologies for drones will increase robustness and therefore the safety of devices. Finicky drones, flyaways and unknown errors are what make drones unreliable and eventually what ruins the experience. These have already been implemented by few companies and need to expand to a larger spectrum of devices. There are already ongoing discussions about safety certifications, pushing for increased robustness in systems and it will evolve in the right direction. As drones get more and more common in our everyday environment, this is a “killer” feature—pun intended.
Ease of use
Drones have been heaven for hobbyists for many years, allowing them the joy of building, piloting and seeing the world from above. As drones penetrate the consumer market, anybody can “technically” pilot a drone—no need to build from scratch.
Businesses that saw an interest in aerial shots with precision and accuracy still require someone technical enough to manipulate this engine, and that’s slowing down business. Indeed, the revolution will truly happen once it will be possible for anyone to easily operate a drone to bring value to their job. Ultimately, simplicity of use and an intuitive interface will allow drone adoption. The good news is that, in the consumer market, we’re already seeing autonomous drones. They can follow you around and avoid obstacles, but interfaces are still a little clunky and still look very nerdy.
This is kind of like the smartphones before the iPhone: very powerful machines with plenty of advanced functionalities accessible to consumers and businesses, but hardly navigable. The iPhone made smartphones usable and even enjoyable through a super simplified user interface. This is what needs to happen to the drone interface to allow literally everyone, at all levels, to take advantage of this technology.
Of course, drones need to add value to consumers and businesses to take off, but for drones to truly fly everywhere, they will require a combination of technology excellence to be 100% reliable, safe and easy to use, which will make regulations evolve in the right way.
Squadrone System enables anyone to capture any type of data, providing easy-to-use self-flying devices that interact with an ecosystem of connected devices and applications. Squadrone has a proven track record of fast development cycles of intelligent systems. Leveraging on the autonomous flight technology developed for its first product, Hexo+, the company now extends its capabilities to B2B applications.