Since 2016, Airworks has served as the preeminent annual hub for innovation and growth in the drone industry; bringing together business partners, software developers, and public safety officials to share insights and new advancements. This year, particular attention was given to drone applications in construction, energy, public safety and agriculture. In an era of change due to COVID-19, DJI decided on hosting Airworks as a digital event this year.
Change, Breakthroughs and Ecosystems: DJI is moving towards a more robust role in drone fleet management in addition to drone production. Christopher Tuazon, DJI Senior Brand Manager, proclaimed a shift to “create a complete ecosystem of products that go from flight control to flight and fleet management, all the way to data output.” To further integrate said efforts, DJI partnered with ESRI, the global leader in location intelligence. Tuazon remarked, “With the new system, drones will deliver live data on top of an enhanced reality model for better coordination between field operators and command centers.” DJI envisions opportunities such as automated and scheduled drone delivery, automated data collection and advanced autonomy.”
These changes support improved data collection for agricultural development, ongoing infrastructure development, or monitoring areas of interest for new development (i.e. social unrest, fires, floods, reforestation, erosion, migratory patterns or other environmental impact). In many cases this includes greater capabilities for autonomous flight, enhanced obstacle avoidance for more challenging environments, and enhanced communication between other UAV’s and multiple drone controllers. Currently, specific payloads also utilize DJI Active Track, featuring three modes (trace, profile and spotlight) to stay aware of subjects.
FLIR’s Vue TZ20: a Bigger Breakthrough
One of the highlight announcements of this year’s event is the FLIR VUE TZ20. This unique thermal sensor sports a 95 degree wide and 18 degree narrow field of view in addition to a 20x thermal zoom; allowing you the flexibility to assess the situation from afar, as well as view important details closeup. This payload is compatible with DJI’s Matrice 200 & 300 series drones.
DJI Channel Partner Spotlight
As one of DJI’s premier enterprise partners, DSLRPros was highlighted at Airworks 2020 to demonstrate some of the unique capabilities of the H20T when paired with the M300. This video highlighted the deep product knowledge that DSLRPros possesses and applied one of the lesser-known H20T features to a public safety use case.
The night scene feature adjusts the camera’s sensitivity to ambient visible and infrared light. This camera adjustment gives drone pilots the ability to see in almost completely dark environments.
Another added feature of the H20T is the laser range finder. The laser range finder uses an infrared beam of light to measure distance. Additionally, when the H20T night scene feature is turned on and in low light conditions, the infrared beam is visible on the H20T live feed. This also allows ground crews with night vision binoculars to see where the drone’s camera is pointed based on the infrared beam’s illumination. For law enforcement, having this ability to designate areas from above with a drone makes it safer for teams on the ground when faced with a complex situation such as serving a risky warrant.
Check out the demonstration of this scenario and H20T feature below.
Resilience in the face of danger: An ‘ever-changing situation’ has become the norm for any in law enforcement, HazMat or first response. In already-challenging situations, people do not have the time or luxury to call in a helicopter for an aerial perspective; nor do they get accurate information from multiple perspectives on the ground. In addition to providing less than ideal data, both options also present financial and logistical challenges. The singular aerial perspective that UAVs provide helps teams quickly and effectively gain situational awareness and acquire actionable data. To help codify varying operating procedures, DJI put forth best practices via its Disaster Relief Program. The resulting white paper provides use case and results data; generated with the support of universities, law enforcement, and fire departments.
One such case study in Sarasota County Florida provides a textbook example of rapid and accurate response. The use of an aerial platform in the first 15 minutes of their response helped this team get ahead of a situation that could have taken an hour (or hours) to assess through traditional methods. The firefighters called in HazMat and their fleet of drones to get into the situation and investigate a dangerous leak inside a building. The drones identified the hazard and maintained situational awareness as firefighters moved in to stop the dangerous leak.
Industry Challenges and Regulation: Regulation, as always, remains complex in any industry. The right amount helps provide guidance and ensures robust, long-term success. Too little, or the wrong variety, can limit emerging technologies and possibilities. The call from DJI’s VP of Policy & Legal Affairs Brendan Schulman is to embrace innovation and focus on what products can do rather than possible security concerns. The challenge now is determining which drones are available to buy and use, fueled by cybersecurity concerns from Congress and the White House. According to Schulman, “I still haven’t seen a single third-party evaluation of their security [….] They don’t have any hard evidence to back up their claims; just like our critics in government have never presented any evidence either.”
Some tangible effects of these policies, however, have already impacted the industry. There is currently an effort to include bans on drones coming from Russia, China and North Korea into the National Defense Authorization Act. The oil & gas industry has already had to wrestle with the potential impact of this on their current fleets and use thereof. For government agencies or private companies leasing government land, it remains worryingly unclear what will happen if such a ban is passed.
In the upcoming year, new and better technologies will continue to work together as part of a growing and robust ecosystem. Industries that support our modern industrial economy will continue to rely on UAVs as they adapt to pressing issues such as ongoing climate change, developing infrastructure and the global pandemic. Despite great challenge, Airworks continues to foster opportunity. We are looking forward to what exciting developments are to come in the run-up to Airworks 2021!