Douglas Spotted Eagle has worked extensively with Yuneec Commercial in Product Development and as Director of Business, and conducted extensive piloting and training in the UAV Space with Sundance Media Group.
There is a lot of buzz about drones being used for law enforcement, what do you think are the real, value-driven use cases that will stand the test of time for drones in public safety?
The primary areas where drones benefit LEO/PSO (at this time) is in three areas; accident scene recreation, pristine CSI capture, and overwatch/monitoring (particularly useful for no-knock warrant service and observation. Accident scene capture time is reduced by as much as 80%, while quality of data is immeasurably increased at a fraction of RTK/laser systems.
You’ve worked hands-on with commercial companies to integrate drones, what are some of the biggest success stories of companies you’ve worked that have set up programs that have seen new business value?
The greatest success stories have come out of teams focused on solving a specific problem. Whether it’s been the large-scale news organizations I’ve worked with, or medium to small scale construction companies, the groups that have gone into the decision with a determined outcome have all been successful.
Successful organizations are able to understand that the drone itself is virtually meaningless, and is just a support component of a much larger ecosystem that may not yet exist. The drone carries the important component (the sensor), but how does that component capture, transmit, process, report, and store the data? Is CJIS required? BIM input? Photographic reporting with specific UTM, distance, radiometric data? What requirements are there, and what is the data path to deliver that information accurately, completely, and rapidly to the decision makers that are asking for the data? How does that data path compete with current information flow? What is the comparable ROI when acquisition, training, and execution time and costs are laid over the existing flow?
An example of a previous successful project is a mid-sized construction company building retail space, where we went in early, consulted the right equipment for the need, and trained the site super and one of his team to fly with automation and tri-weekly overlays. We started the project flying at the elevation level, and by the 5th week after the flatwork went in, we discovered two errors, both of which would have been extremely expensive to repair had the work progressed much further. The cost of the drones and training was zeroed out in that one dataset/flight.
You’ve got an extensive background in drones for cinematography… Where would you recommend new users dive in to learn about using drones for real-world films?
I’d recommend learning about the technical side of image capture, while at the same time learning how to intuitively fly. Very little of the “real” drone work in cinema is automated, but rather well rehearsed. There are many incredible cameramen that cannot fly a drone, and many drone pilots that cannot fly the camera. Focus on flight techniques, “feeling” the shot from the director’s description, and understanding how the aircraft can add to the tension, freedom, and expansion of a shot. There isn’t yet a “where,” although there are training companies that specialize in teaching cinematic/kinetic flight.
If you were a company just building out your drone division, where would you point them to learn about the industry?
Identify a consulting, training, and operational partner that has the ability to demonstrate case studies, actual end-user experience, and hours of real flight time. There aren’t many. Choose a guide that is specifically focused on one area identical or reasonably similar to the vertical applications your company is targeting. There are many, many people who have been flying for a short period of time who are branding themselves “consultants,” “SME’s”, etc. Look at their portfolio, talk to their clients. Visit the trade shows and pay attention to the seminars, spend a lot of time looking at what others in related verticals are doing, how they do it, and most importantly, “Why” they do it.
If you could see any hardware or software products developed for the drone industry that would really excite you, what would they be?
Hardware; more standardization of some components that would allow for autonomous return and charging capability. Today, neither inductive nor conductive charging is conducive to efficiency in large-scale operations. I’d like to see more efficient compression schemes that allow for faster/more useful data transfers from aircraft to a network vs scaling through the remote.
Software standards would also provide great benefit. I feel the direction of DroneCode, for example, is where our entire industry will benefit in migration to these standards not only for end user benefit, but also for reasons of safety, interoperability, data access/transmission/acquisition. I’d like to see AI that mimics some of the manual capabilities of say…the 3DR tools combined with automation.
If a company were launching a new piece of hardware in the drone space in 2018, what advice would you give them?
Be open-ended. Build the hardware to work on as many platforms as possible. Avoid focusing on only the current big player; work with partners in what may appear to be the smaller spaces where more innovation and access are occurring. Recognize that the industry will continue to winnow and flatten out in product choices, and being accessible to as many of the fewer platforms will provide greater sales. It may take a bit of extra effort, but putting all your eggs in one basket is foolish. The recent military and government ban on a particular brand of drone is just one example of why it’s not a good idea to be narrowly focused.