By Jeff Salmon
Welcome to our semi-annual UAS-focused issue. Looking back over the last six years of UAS development, I am struck by how far the technology has progressed. Right before our eyes a new industry has developed, one that promises to bring far-reaching changes to our profession and indeed to the whole world.
And it started, like many industries, in the FUD stage: fear, uncertainty, doubt.
I recall an incident in 2011 that illustrates the UAS-FUD state of that time. I was attending the ILMF conference in Denver and sat in on the ASPRS “Hot Topics” session. The subject was unmanned aerial vehicles and their impact on aerial mapping. During the question-and-answer period one gentleman stood up, not with a question for the panel but with an observation.
“Drones will never be used for aerial mapping.” His reasoning? “A Predator drone costs over $250,000, way beyond the budget of any aerial mapping firm.”
I’ve heard the opposite as well: drones are nothing more than cheap toys incapable of serious geospatial work. You can probably think of plenty more examples from the FUD zone. Six years later, we find that the FAA has registered more than 750,000 UAS and certified more than 25,000 remote pilots. More importantly, UAS are routinely being used in a wide range of aerial mapping, inspection, and other geospatial applications.
So, did the gentleman’s prediction come true? Well, he was right about aerial mapping firms not buying Predators. We’ve since found unmanned aerial systems that don’t need to be sourced from the DoD and that (shock!) cost a good deal less than $250,000. The “never-going-to-happen” part? Signs point to “no.”
With FUD (hopefully) in the rearview mirror, FOMO comes into play: fear of missing out.
First, let’s agree that making decisions based on fear is a poor strategy. A better path for deciding whether to add UAS to your toolkit is to take an analytic look at your existing and possible (future) markets and how they can be addressed with this technology. The upside of FOMO is that it is getting geospatial professionals to take steps to perform feasibility analysis along these lines.
This is where we can help. On a regular basis we provide examples, not only of UAS technology but of applications that are a good fit for this technology, as well.
Which brings us to this issue’s feature. “Little Drone Takes on Big Airport” walks us through a first-of-its-kind UAS project inside the world’s busiest airport. That’s right, inside the airport grounds. The team of civil-engineering firm Atkins Global, software giant Autodesk, and UAS provider 3DR worked to pull off this project. Read how they worked to get an FAA exemption, performed a unique UAS-based reality capture project, and used the data in AutodeskÕs software to help design the airport’s expansion.
Also, in this issue’s UAS column you’ll read “Robots for Mars” that explains how senseFly’s eBee UAS is helping in the European Space Agency’s effort to explore Mars. Two of my favorite subjects, UAS and Mars exploration, are packed into one article!
So leave the FUD or FOMO behind and read on.