Drones Draw Big Crowd at InfoComm 2015, But What’s Their Future in AV?

It’s the next steps that are the most critical and will determine the potential of these futuristic aircrafts in the industry.>

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Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…a drone video system! Or, at least that’s what Stampede owner, president and COO Kevin Kelly hopes those in the AV industry will start to call what some refer to as unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned aircraft systems or simply drones.

Thousands of curious tech folks stopped by the Drone Pavilion during InfoComm 2015, some simply to be dazzled by the potential of these futuristic crafts and others to learn more about how they could use them in their businesses or encourage their clients to implement them as part of an AV upgrade.

Kelly has long been an advocate for implementing drones and continues to see advances in their use in several vertical markets, including health care, military and command and control. But he wonders if the word “drone” is something that scares or even turns people off because of its futuristic or intrusive tone.

To solve that, he’s been leading the charge to calling these crafts “drone video systems” and tells those who are thinking about or even remotely curious about what drones can do or how they can help them to think of these fabulous flyers as an additional camera in a system that likely has one installed.

View photos of the Drone Pavilion.

“People are trying to understand how they can integrate this technology,” says Kelly. “Right now, they’re going through the learning process.”

With some estimates as high as 10,000 visitors to the drone pavilion in the three days of InfoComm 2015, clearly there’s plenty of interest about the technology and what it can do. And even those who came to the area with the most doubt walked away convinced there’s something there, says Stampede UAV product manager Eric Jameson.

“It’s got to start somewhere,” says Jameson. “Someone has to provide the leadership and connect the dots for people. You have to incentivize dealers by offering them discounts and rebates to get them in the door, but I think people can really see how this helps with real-time decision-making. It’s become so clear how much the AV market owns this.”

Companies looking to start their own group centered on drone implementation should expect to spend $60,000 to $70,000 not including the staff they’ll need to bring in to run the program, says Jameson. And, while many people are dazzled by and drawn in by the drones themselves, that’s the last piece.

“How you’ll do it and get trained is much more important,” says Jameson.

What You’ll Need

Kelly Neubecker, CEO at UASolutions Group, Inc., said during a presentation in the pavilion she sees larger companies—such as those on the Fortune 100, 500 and 1000—as most likely to launch their own drone program because their sheer size makes them more risk-averse.

Companies that start their own drone program, she says, have to think of many things they might not realize, including a concept of operations that looks at the safety of the idea, their objectives of having a drone program, how much risk they’re willing to take and market research that shows the technology meets the mission.

Organizational structure is another key consideration, says Neubecker, with companies having to think about whether they want to deploy unmanned drones or aircrafts with pilots and then considering the qualifications of those who are operating the vehicles.

Companies starting a drone program need to consider training, ensuring operators have the proper qualifications and certifications, take refresher courses to stay updated on the latest information and that someone is responsible for record-keeping and safety, maintenance and security.

Related: Drones to Deliver Speedy, Reliable Healthcare in Not-So-Distant Future

Operations is another consideration when creating this type of offering, with planning, weather forecasts and pilot scheduling among the key pieces, says Neubecker. She also emphasized the need for an aviation maintenance program, a safety management system and insurance and risk management, along with background checks, physical security and a sterile cockpit.

Companies must also be sure they comply with federal, state and local laws and regulations, noting they can often be different from state to state and even county to county. About 16 states have their own regulations in this area, says Neubecker. Other policies to keep in mind are the company’s own corporate policies, the Fourth Amendment in regard to privacy and issues centered on technical data processing and sharing. Data management, storage and video tagging are also important, says Jameson.

There’s certainly plenty of excitement when it comes to drones and their potential in the AV world and we expect to see progress in that area in time for InfoComm 2016. Who will be the first company to dip its toe in the water and how will the offering change the types of installations the industry can do?

“Unless someone does this again next year, this isn’t going to happen,” says Jameson when asked if it’s important for InfoComm 2016 to feature another drone pavilion. “You need to have the equipment, training and opportunities all in one package. Companies are going to need all of this stuff to be successful. I’m a big believer that it can happen though. My military background brings me the art of the possible.”

More InfoComm 2015 Coverage.