Whether or not the industry has a business case for many different types of drone operations was a consistent theme throughout Amsterdam Drone Week. One very interesting discussion on this topic was a panel with Droneup, Droniq, SkyGrid, Airbus, NS (the Netherlands Railway) and moderation by the GSMA.
NS kicked off the discussion with an explanation of how the railway is using drones for inspections of real estate. They use of tethered drones inside of railway stations to reach locations that are difficult and dangerous to access for their workers. There are many electricity cables that need to be avoided, making the situation even more challenging. They also made a digital twin of the main station in Amsterdam using drones, allowing them to plan work in this location before undertaking it. Many people might say that drones increase the ground risk and therefore are not a good way forward. NS believes that scaffolding holds a much higher ground risk than drones. Sounds like they’ve got a good plan for commercial drone operations in place.
There are still challenges that need to be addressed though. SkyGrid mentioned regulation and automation. Regulation was a topic mentioned throughout many panels at the event, with speakers expressing their frustration with the slow speed at which many believe this is moving. Airbus reiterated with the need for common standards. There can’t be too much customisation. We need to have easy to deploy, predictable solutions. Droniq built on the topic of standards saying that today they only work technically and don’t align well across different customer needs. It’s still too slow and complicated today as many trials work in a one pilot to one drone scenario. This isn’t scalable.
The GSMA brought up the challenge of good cellular coverage to support communications. In addition, dynamic data regarding ground risk can be provided by telecoms providers and this should be leveraged. Telecom operators already know how to provide continuity across multiple networks (roaming of cellular service) and this needs to be considered as today the aviation networks are usually a single network. This expertise doesn’t exist in this part of the industry. By pulling together a lot of different business stakeholders in support of drone services, consistency must exist across the value chain. IE – we’re back to the need for regulation and standards.
Airbus suggested the example of the Internet of Things (IoT), which is now a plug and play functionality. How do we do this from drones? And if we don’t, the customer adoption will never be there at the desired level.
A final comment from Droniq sums the situation up very well. It’s all about doing. Our industry is good at talking with no end. We need to start flying to move ahead!