The word ‘innovation’ gets thrown around a lot in the modern business environment, but there are not many industries where it is as so appropriately used as it is in the drone industry. In what is such a forward thinking sector, without those driving it forward being so innovative and thinking of new ways to push the industry on, the drone industry would not be where it is today. However, as the drone community is aware, there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to getting where it needs to be. CDP finds out from some of the world’s leading drone firms just how much of a role ‘innovation’ will play.
How is innovation helping you drive business on?
DJI: Our founder’s passion for innovation is actually what has, and continues to make, DJI the successful company that it is today, and DJI is driven by its engineers, who continually focus on innovation and user experience. We help users break down complex technology and make it easy-to-use, reliable and accessible to anyone with a creative vision. This appeals to the market place. Despite the drone sector being a relatively young industry, it has developed significantly since DJI’s introduction of the flight control system enabling stable hovering without input from the user. We reimagined what a quadcopter should look like when we brought our first foldable drone, the Mavic Pro, to market. We took the aerial gimbal from our drones and created an entirely new product category when we placed it on our handheld Osmo series. We made the first drone that people can control with hand gestures. We were the first to add geofencing systems to our drones to help pilots make better decisions about where to fly.Key is that we are not just focusing on one drone category; amongst civilian drone manufacturers we are unique in offering the widest product portfolio - from the small Mavic Mini weighing less than 250 grams to the Agras T16 which has a maximum take-off weight of 40 kg.
Scopito: In a relatively new market like ours, innovation is part of everything we do. Our product is constantly evolving, to meet the needs of this developing market. Scopito started as a small one-person business where Ken Falk (now CEO) build his own drones. Once the doors to the market started opening for him, Ken realised that what people wanted to buy was drone inspections as a service. The one-man company became Heliscope, a drone service provider. Heliscope needed a software platform to manage all their inspection data, and Ken decided to hire an old colleague, and they started to build one. The platform (Scopito) quickly become so popular, that Ken decided to sell off the inspection-part of his business and change the name to Scopito – and this is what we are today. We have been innovative every step of they way, and will continue to evolve, develop and change for the better.
Topcon: Drone use and innovation is helping in the wider field of developing the digital construction site. The construction industry has a long way to go to be able to meet the future demand this is only going to be achieved by innovating and adopting new technologies.
COPTRZ: Innovation is an enormous aspect of our business, it’s our mission to ‘Revolutionise Organisations Using Drones’ and to do that we’ve got the most complete range of commercial drones in the World, an offering that we must continuously innovate and improve on to ensure our customers receive the best drone solutions. We’ve achieved 100%+ growth YOY for 3 years, a feat just not possible without constant innovation of our products and services.
How does the work of others inspire you to be more innovative within your own business?
RIEGL: RIEGL is always focusing on the market and the customers’ requirements and expectations. The excellent relationship within the worldwide RIEGL community, the long-term cooperation with partners and the reliable customers’ feedback help us to optimize overall performance by current development and improvement.
Allan Panthera: By seeing what my clients are doing every day, pushing boundaries and really trying to transform how things are done by maximising the potential of drone technology, it inspires me to look at how my business operates. One big thing for me is to keep on top of my Disrupterprise® model, to make sure I’m aware of and using the latest techniques to support my clients competing in their markets. Additionally, if I have clients abroad, for example, I need to think of, “How can I best support them when I can’t be in their office every day?” I look at things like video support, online software to track the project and deliverables, whatsapp groups for instant sharing of key info etc. It might sound basic but compared to other consultancies it’s quite an innovative way of supporting them.
INVOLI: As any other technological company, we are a team of geeks who love SF movies and literature, gadgets and comics, superheroes and time travel. So, the first source of inspiration for our innovative endeavours is the one embedded in the personality of each of us. Of course, we also get our inspiration from the external environment, though it rarely comes from the drone world, but mostly from other industries – it is somewhat natural to get more inspired from industries which one doesn’t know thoroughly, where from one learns something new which then clicks in an idea for its own business.
FLOCK: Our products are driven by the demands of our customers so it’s very important we stay abreast of developments in the sector. It’s doing this that has enabled us to offer insurance to organisations working on the frontiers of the industry, from using hydrogen powered drones to conducting BVLOS flights across multiple countries.
A few stories that inspired the team this year include Skyports acquiring vertiports across London, Zipline delivering blood to a remote hospitals in Rwanda and Boeing testing drones with jet engines for long distance flights.
How important is it to constantly think outside of the box in the drone sector?
Pergam-Suisse: The optimal solution for UAV / Drone based natural gas pipeline leak inspection has not yet be achieved. UAV / Drone based natural gas pipeline leak inspections are only the preferred method for areas inaccessible for other methods (ground staff, vehicle based). It will take a revolutionary change in UAV / Drone capability, noise reduction, and economics to change this.
Unifly: What box? We are a ground-breaking company. Nothing we are doing has been done before. We constantly need to invent new business models, new ways of working. There is no “box” yet that confines us – or anyone in the drone industry.
Scopito: Crucial. If you are not foreseeing the changes in needs, you can quickly be left behind. This is a young sector, and the companies that are following the stream, rather than trying to be ahead of the curve, are those you won’t see in this sector in 5 years.
DJI: The drone sector is constantly evolving, and we’re seeing many new companies entering the sector, particularly on the enterprise side. These companies are looking at old issues with fresh eyes and implementing new technology to tackle challenges in different industries. It is this constant pursuit of improvement and ‘thinking outside of the box’ that is helping the drone industry to thrive across an increasing number of sectors.
Quantum Systems: Absolutely important. It’s essential to see what’s going on around you. To observe trends, to recognize developments in order to be able to react to them. Because you run the risk of losing the connection in the very fast-moving drone market.
What are the biggest challenges preventing you from being truly innovative at the moment?
Topcon: Software, computing power and AI. Drone captured data can still take a long time to process and analyse, once these hurdles are overcome I think we will truly see drones being widely adopted in the Construction sector.
COPTRZ: The current immaturity of the market can limit innovation, we find that constantly evolving legislation causes caution around commercial drone practices. This coupled with the uncertainty of Brexit means budgets are being withheld or elsewhere spent until the country knows and understands what changes will occur. Awareness and the cascade of clear information is key to ensure that we meet help our clients understand the full potential of the drone industry.
RIEGL: We do everything in our power to remain constantly innovative! One of the most important basic preconditions is manpower. We continuously enlarge our team to ensure that all segments (electronics, design, UAV integration, software and firmware) can be handled properly and that all available resources are bundled to develop new instruments and software to control and process the data.
Additionally, new company buildings are currently being constructed both at the company headquarters in Austria and at the company’s North American Location in Orlando, USA.
ALLAN PANTHERA: I think ‘truly innovative’ is relative, and so I’d say that what I’m doing with my business and clients is definitely innovative. Of course, there are always things you can do bigger and better, but I empathise with my clients that sometimes you have to be patient to scale and bring out the big guns at the right time. Walk before you can run.
INVOLI: I think the main challenge is common for the entire industry and not only for us: lack of dedicated regulations. The link between innovativeness and lack of regulations may not be obvious, but drone companies are subject to aviation laws, which is a very strict industry; if special laws for drones aren’t in place and if these laws are not aligned with the technical reality and are not taking into account potential future technological progresses, no innovation can be fully unleashed. While it may be true that none of the major breakthroughs in history had anything to do with regulations (regulations were then adapted to fit the new discoveries/inventions), we are all in a market phase nowadays, having taken our innovations out of the research labs into the real world, where we need more structure in order to further progress.DID YOU KNOW?In the UK, drones have been predicted to increase national GDP by as much as £42 billion by the year 2030, the equivalent of 2%.
From an innovation point of view, how do you see the market progressing in 2020?
FLOCK: 2020 is going to be a big year for drone innovation. You can expect to see more interesting use-cases for drones emerge and more applications appear in traditional industries. We’re already reviewing requests to insure everything from autonomous drone fleets to eVTOL taxis and can’t wait to hear from other organisations pushing the envelope in the UAV industry.
Pergam Suisse: I think the market will continue to try, but with the restrictions from both the government and the public will continue to stifle signification growth and innovation that comes with it.
Unifly: Constant stream of new ideas and new applications. If you compare where we are today versus January 2019, there has been a massive boom in new applications and innovations. Innovation will continue at a very high pace in 2020 and beyond.
Quantum Systems: We will certainly make great progress in the area of technical implementation to comply with the legal regulations under the new European UAV Regulation. But especially with regard to flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). In general, we are convinced that the use of drones as an innovative supplement will expand in other industries and areas of application.
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