Drones, or more formally known as UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), are in the spotlight in recent years. From what was started out as a hobbyist’s toy, companies and organizations have also begun to realise that drones could be used in commercial applications. One such company would be Amazon, who, in late 2013, announced a plan to use drones as a mode of delivery in the near future.

In the realm of proAV, drones came into prominence at InfoComm in Orlando last year. For ISE 2016, drones are once again set to make their salient presence in Amsterdam. So just what are drones, where are the opportunities and what has triggered this drone movement?

Why Now?

“The possibilities are endless. As the technology becomes more accessible (pricing-wise and retail touch points), mass adoption is inevitable. On the other hand, we also see huge commercial implications which will create positive economic and social impacts across different industries,” said Kevin On, Associate Director of Communications, DJI.

It’s true. Besides Amazon’s unorthodox plan of using drones as delivery vehicles, drones have been used to benefit commercial and government bodies in the field of search and rescue, surveillance, traffic monitoring, weather monitoring, firefighting etc.

In many ways, the seemingly sudden surge of interest in drone technology is the result of improved drone hardware and software. Because drones are now more powerful, sophisticated, and useful, the public has more of a reason to be interested in them.

Quoting Kevin Kelly, President & COO of Stampede, “The increase in computing power at a smaller size improved the flight performance of small aircrafts. Also, stable flight control systems became far easier to implement. The technology improved as the ease-of-use increased.”

Opportunities Arise

Image copyright © 2015 DJI. All rights reserved.
Image copyright © 2015 DJI. All rights reserved.

So what business opportunities will this Age of Drones bring to the proAV realm?

As one of the largest AV/IT technology distributor in North and Latin America, Stampede is one of the first few companies to hop on the pro-drone wagon and has been actively involved in promoting drones for commercial use.

“Drones are a means to put AV in the sky,” said Kelly. “With an integral consultative sales approach, the ProAV industry is prime for drone integration. Key vertical markets such government, education, corporate, and houses of worship are already benefiting from drone integration. ProAV integrators that capitalize on this category are sure to remain relevant in years to come.”

Equally optimistic, Shenzhen-based drone manufacturer XIRO, also commented that affordable price points will see more and more people using drones for aerial videos and that in turn, will lead to more business queries and proAV integrators, dealers, resellers, should be prepared for that when it comes.

“For the professional audiovisual industry, we believe that this is an important step stone to differentiate themselves from their competitors. By having possibilities in their product range, it gives your customers more freedom of choice,” said Deng Yuheng, Product Manager (Asia Pacific), XIRO.

Echoing Stampede and XIRO, DJI’s On also agreed that the proAV should see the rise of drones as an opportunity. “UAVs present a real growth opportunity for the AV industry and there is already a strong link between AV and UAV – capturing compelling visual content.”

V Is For Video

The rise of drones also, inevitably, brought attention to the inconspicuous action cameras (Irony huh?). Small, lightweight, wearable, mountable, portable and sometimes even waterproof, action cameras were the talk of the town at many consumer electronic shows.

Moreover, a drone won’t be all that special if all it does is fly. I mean, toy helicopters can do that too right? But attach a high performance action cam to it and BAM! – you call it a drone now (even the name sounds cooler).

Looking at it from this perspective, you can say that video quality is important in drone applications. After all, it is such a killjoy if you were to bring your drone up to a nice valley, hoping to capture the beautiful scenery, but end up with a grainy video. And that is speaking from a recreational point of view. For industrial applications, the implications of a bad video can be detrimental especially if it is used for surveillance or firefighting purposes.

So what are some factors to consider when selecting a suitable camera for drones?

Singapore Hobby Supplies shares that excellent picture quality in both videos and still images is a priority when using action cams in drone applications. Because drones are always on the move, action cam with features like Sony’s Advanced SteadyShot™ can boost image stabilisation by approximately three times. It effectively suppresses shake and high-frequency motor vibration so users can film vibration-free aerial footages. Additionally, the ease of usage on a drone itself is also important.

Photo credit: Drone Forestry by Sam Beebe/Flickr
Photo credit: Drone Forestry by Sam Beebe/Flickr

“One minor shortfall of Point of View cameras in the market is that the current shape of the devices makes it slightly awkward to mount onto a drone sometimes,” remarked Ronald Yong, Singapore Hobby Supplies Pte Ltd.

Furthermore, there is also the need for smooth post processing of footages. According to Yong, software like Highlight Movie Maker, an in-built programme within Sony action cams – makes it easy to assemble a share-ready clip as it saves the trouble of editing long footages.

“There are definitely improvements to be sought after in Point of View cameras in the market. For example, it would be great if it comes with the ability to capture still images in full pixel format, as well as being weather-proof on its own without having an outer tight-case over it.”

“Currently, some drones carry these Point of View Cameras without an outer case. As such, many of these cameras have a high chance of sustaining water and physical damages. Other drones which carry the Point of View cameras with water-tight protective cases, sacrifice some flight time due to higher payload or video quality as these protective cases cannot be mounted onto a brush-less camera stabilizer,” concludes Yong.

Safety & Security

Stampede’s Kelly puts this across very well,

“The lack of regulations on the legal, proper and safe use of drones is one of the biggest challenges in commercial drone use today.”

With as many as one million drones predicted to have been sold last holiday season as gifts, government bodies around the world are scrambling to come up with regulations that will contain and regulate rogue drones. This in turn, could possibly change the game for commercial applications as more laws are written and more restrictions are placed.

It also doesn’t help that pranksters with rogue drones have made international news regularly, further contributing to anti-drone sentiments for those who fear their privacy and safety will be compromised.

So what lies ahead? At first look, drone regulations for most of Asia are less comprehensive than its Western counterparts. Admittedly, the reason could be due to the fact that drone activities in Asia are not as prominent as compared to Europe or America. But with globalisation, it is only a matter of time that the drone fever will hit the region. And when that time comes, hopefully, regulatory bodies in the region would already have a concrete set of regulations for commercial drone operators.

“Law and regulations are very important and we believe more and more countries will impose regulations for users and manufacturers like us.” – XIRO Drone

The drone pavilion at InfoComm 2015. Photo credit: Stampede
The drone pavilion at InfoComm 2015. Photo credit: Stampede

Another major challenge for drones is negative public perception. A January 2015 Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 64% of respondents said they would not want their next-door neighbour to have a drone, and 71% said drones should not be allowed to operate over other people’s private property. In short, people are concerned about their privacy and safety.

Addressing public safety concerns, DJI recently updated their geofencing technology and launched a beta version of GEO (Geospatial Environment Online) feature in US and Europe. The feature will provide DJI drone users with up-to-date guidance on locations which may be restricted by regulation or raise safety concerns.

“Pilots will have, at the time of flight, access to live information on temporary flight restrictions due to forest fires, major stadium events, VIP travel, and other changing circumstances,” explained On.

“The GEO system will also include for the first time restrictions around locations such as prisons, power plants and other sensitive areas where drone operations raise non-aviation security concerns.”

“In terms of technical challenges, the current drone itself is limited in flight duration due to battery life. Flight durations can range from a few minutes up to almost an hour. However, few if any multicopters can fly for more than an hour while carrying a sensor payload. Advances in batteries and alternative propulsion systems should overcome this limitation in the future.” Stampede Global

Future of Drones

For the proAV industry, drone technology appears to present a stream of interesting opportunities. Advocating that drones should become a category within the ProAV sector rather than an entirely separate commercial drone industry, Stampede has developed the Drone Video System (DVS) category to further this notion.

© 2015 DJI. All rights reserved.
© 2015 DJI. All rights reserved.

Within the DVS category, AV components are integrated with drones. By pulling together drone equipment, related add-ons, command & control capabilities, and the professional training services needed, the Drone Video System (DVS) category allows ProAV Integrators to create a complete drone solution for their client, regardless of the application.

Stampedes sees this as the future of drone integration in the ProAV industry and the opportunity offers enormous benefits for integrators in various vertical markets.

In terms of drone technology, XIRO hopes to see more ‘smart’ drones which can adapt to different environments and avoid obstacles intelligently, with longer battery life and better portability.

“We see great potential in industry-specific applications for UAVs including agriculture, surveying & mapping, disaster prevention, search & rescue and the possibilities are endless,” remarked DJI’s On.

“Our technology is also opening doors for the ecosystem, especially in the developer community, which will create new applications, use cases and jobs.”

“The next three to five years will be a very exciting period as we bring more innovation and new ideas to the UAV industry.”

www.stampedeglobal.com
www.dji.com
www.xirodrone.com
www.sony-asia.com
www.singahobby.com

*This article is first published in Systems Integration Asia February to March 2016 issue.