An Open Letter To UAS Venture Capital: One-Click Solutions Are Not The Answer.

Unmanned Aerial Systems are new - disruptive as the now cliche saying goes - and, like so many other disruptive technologies out there, much of their full potential has yet to be realized. And because UAS is still trying to find its marketplace niches, it attracts a good deal of venture capital investors with interests that do not always correspond with healthy long-term growth of potential UAS markets.  

Now I would be wrong, crazy one might say, to state that investment is not good for the growth of a business, but please allow yourself to ponder what growth would look like in the rapidly developing world of UAS without those press releases that showcase a UAS with even more blinking lights and ‘one-click-solutions’. What if companies stopped catering to the already saturated consumer-grade UAS market and started coming up with a series of specialized UAS products that cater to commercial UAS providers?

Right now the consumer grade UAS market is over-capacity, and filled with over-promises and under-delivery. From hobbyist to narcissist, you can find a drone to film your awesome ski vacation or wedding reception (illegally), but what about catering to the emerging group of UAS professionals who are looking for quality platforms and software that makes it easy for the end user to get a value added return on their data?

What is sorely lacking in this market are platforms and software that will allow the commercial UAS sector to grow into emerging and unforeseen niches. This means a platform that has failsafe redundancies and flight-time longevity, but don't stop there with quality hardware, invest in software with the end user in mind. In terms of mission planning, the software needs to sync more with the numerous forms of geospatial data out there in the open source world. Beyond that, the commercial UAS pilot should not grouped with hobbyist UAS pilots and locked out of air spaces near airports and cities. They should be able to submit documentation that demonstrates they have clearance. Integration of UAS data into the geospatial software realm is also needed. Make it easy for the UAS service provider to add value and deliver the data for the end user. Finally, create software for the end user to be able to interact with that data. With a disclaimer that I see UAS a geospatial data collection tool, this final point is perhaps the most important.

I see UAS as a means to collect data that has been used for geospatial value-added data analysis for decades. What UAS does is merely allow for data collection at a much higher temporal (time) and spatial (pixel size) resolution. The UAS is also just a platform carrying a sensor, and more needs to be done to allow potential UAS customers to see that a ‘drone’ does much more than take video and pictures in RGB (colors that we see).

For example, scientists having been engaging in land-use land-cover change analysis using satellite imagery to detect patterns of urban sprawl, climate change, and deforestation dating back to the 1970’s. The methods used with Remote Sensing and Geographic Information system software are tried and true, but until the advent of UAS and lightweight multispectral sensors, this was mostly limited to satellite imagery, and plane imagery when it could be obtained. Now these methods can jump from ‘Big Science’ right into the hands of the restoration ecologist at a mine responsible for vegetation remediation, or to the real-estate developer monitoring vegetation in a landscaping effort.

More can be done to demonstrate how UAS technology can be utilized by end users such as these, but GIS and Remote Sensing software need to be integrated more into UAS mission planning and end user products. The software also needs to be simplified and or lowered in cost. With the rise of open source software, much of the cost element has been eliminated, but what still remains is the need to simplify for the end user. For any of us who have used GIS or Remote Sensing software, we know it is a beast, with the ability to perform thousands of analytical operations. For the UAS end user, they would only need to engage in several forms of value added analysis.

Software and app packages need to be developed that address this need so the UAS commericial provider can move into potential markets where the customer can see the value of UAS as a tool, not as an oddity or gimmick.


Joe Hupy (Menet Aero)