Drones, Software and Data

December 2014
Original Source: SkyCatch 

Image Source: SkyCatch 

SkyCatch, a start-up based in San Francisco which specializes in the aerial capture and processing of data, has just announced its new Workmode service. Workmode is an online platform which helps companies to find and hire freelance drone pilots for their inspection projects or for data mapping.

Salients

  • A Marketplace for Drones - In keeping with philosophy of the “sharing economy,” Workmode describes itself as the Uber or Airbnb of drones. Under its aegis, companies and freelance pilots agree the terms of their professional relationship, while SkyCatch, acting as a third party, brings its analytical and data processing software to the operation and monitors the quality of the service, in exchange for a commission.

  • Cover for Smaller Projects - With Workmode, SkyCatch has an unlimited number of freelance pilots available to cover small jobs and thus allow the commissioning companies to avoid having to buy their own drone technology or paying for unnecessary services. With this facility at their disposal, these companies can acquire the data maps which interest them at a significant saving.

  • Certified Pilots - Any drone pilot can sign up for Workmode, but to get the SkyCatch certification he or she must have passed tests in photogrammetry, data capture technology and aviation legislation, among other subjects.

  • Pending Legal Regulation in the United States - For now Workmode is only available to a small group of companies working with selected pilots. Pending the outcome of talks between SkyCatch and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), Workmode will begin operations in France and Australia in the coming weeks.

Insights

  • An Innovative Solution which Benefits Everyone - With Workmode, SkyCatch offers an economic solution for customers who want to undertake small-scale mapping and data projects. It provides them access to a technology which would otherwise be extremely expensive, offers them certified, experienced pilots to carry out the work, backed up with the guarantee of their tried and tested analytical software. For the freelance pilots it is a way of professionalizing their hobby, getting access to potential customers and gaining economic benefit from their drones. SkyCatch, meanwhile, can focus on its main source of business, which is not in the sale of drones or the hiring of pilots, but in analytical software and the processing of data and images. Workmode makes this product available to customers who do not need the other services SkyCatch offers. This allows it to carry out small analysis projects on which, otherwise, it would have to pass. What’s more, Workmode brings into being an extensive network of independent operators who are able to use Skycatch’s software in a flexible way to suit the needs of different projects.

  • The Market is Growing Despite Legal Uncertainties - The global business of drones for commercial use, led by countries such as Japan, Australia, France and the UK, is worth $2.5 billion, with an annual growth rate of nearly 20%. And all this despite the fact that in the United States, one of the biggest potential markets, the civil use of drones has still to be fully legalized, since the FAA has not yet clearly set out the rules which will apply to this business, though it is expected to do so in the coming months. Nonetheless the first obstacles are already being overcome. In September of this year the FAA issued licences to six companies in Hollywood to film with drones, and in Alaska it already allows drones to be flown for the aerial monitoring of oil operations. Some companies, such as BP, have special permits for such work. The same SkyCatch, whose projects would not be strictly legal under current regulations, is cooperating with the FAA in order to coordinate the legal, safety and commercial regulations which will apply to all the agents active in the field. Aware as they are that the definitive regulatory framework will soon be in place, and that this will usher in a revolution, Fortune 500 and venture capital companies have already been making investments in drone technology: more than $79 million last year. Nelmia estimates that the global market for commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could reach $7 billion by 2020.

  • A Use of Robotics which Creates Jobs - A distinguishing characteristic of robotic drones for civil uses is that they are carrying out tasks that people cannot do, in a realm where they do not replace but rather increase the need for human involvement. While the debate over whether mass automation will create more jobs than it destroys continues, robotic drones are giving rise to new professions and new opportunities. Services like Workmode are allowing many enthusiasts to transform their hobbies into jobs and to take up careers as freelance pilots, for which they will have to have the requisite technical training, as well as the necessary permits, so as to demonstrate proven skills in an area of work which will be very competitive. Over time regulatory and certifying organizations will appear that will be dedicated to the training of future drone pilots in the technological as well as the legal and safety aspects of the job. There will also be a growing need for data analysts and software developers specializing in the imaging and interpretation of big data for companies from sectors such as mining, construction, agriculture and energy, which are already regular users of aerial mapping services, and from other sectors, such as tourism and logistics. Despite the lack of a regulatory framework, Amazon has recently advertised vacancies for “flight operations engineers” and "flight safety managers" to start the testing of their Amazon Prime Air delivery system.

  • The Value is not in the Hardware but in the Software - The technology of the hardware in drones is relatively simple compared to that of terrestrial unmanned autonomous vehicles, and its components are not unlike those contained in a normal smartphone. Their inevitable evolution will, no doubt, lead to more powerful cameras, more accurate sensors and longer-lasting batteries, but after the initial fascination with what flies wears off, what will really matter will not be the drones themselves, but what can be done with them to improve business efficiency in all kinds of industries. The value will be in the software. Software that takes fewer people to operate will be especially valued, such as there is in the pre-programmed drones which can operate autonomously that SkyCatch has developed but not yet sold. Software programs which ensure compliance with regulations that significantly diminish risks, or which bring about innovation in the methods of visualizing and processing the data, will also have their place. What will drive up sales will not be the technological capabilities of the devices but the opportunities they afford to businesses to improve their bottom lines through the use of drone technology as a tool for data capture, under the banner of Drones as a Service [DaaS].

  • The Future is Data - All the experts agree that the future of the drones industry is in data. The use of multispectral sensors to capture data invisible to the human eye, and to detect, for example, gas leaks in pipelines, or the lack of certain nutrients in crops, generates the kind of information that companies could not have obtained so readily before the arrival of the drones, and for which they are willing to pay. Although at the moment the data capture is primarily visual, use of new sensors will allow other types of information to be gathered, such as the level of radiation in a given area. The ability to capture and process data in real time, which quickly generates 3D maps of high resolution, is another element of great interest for companies, which can then make their decisions much faster, in cases where time is essential. It is important to remember that Big Data, of which drones are likely to be an important source, is intrinsically linked with the industrial internet, the Internet of Things or IoT. General Electric estimates that the IoT may add up to $10 trillion to global GDP over the next twenty years, as the next great wave.