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Drones Take Off for Location Companies

April 22, 2015  - By
3D Robotics Solo Drone with GPS embedded.

3D Robotics Solo Drone with GPS embedded.

The National Association of Broadcasters meeting in Las Vegas draws 100,000 attendees annually, making it one of the largest trade shows in the country. However, besides timing and some very niche markets, it has not been a big show for location companies. That is, until now, when NAB welcomed drone manufacturers, all of which embed GPS in their flying aircraft.

Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy

LAS VEGAS — Commercial drones, a growing market for location companies, was one of the most popular topics at the National Association of Broadcasters Show, held here April 13-16.

The market for drones has grown nearly five times in the last few years, said Eric Cheng of DJI, which uses GPS in its virtual positioning system that monitors and controls the aircraft. The company markets what they call “flying cameras” that look suspiciously like drones. “The market was initially hobbyists, but now some major broadcast players are buying the cameras,” Cheng said at the Showstoppers trade event the day before NAB.

Most of the drones offer GPS-based automatic flight stabilization technology. Some even offer a long-range wireless signal and low-latency video transmission.

Many of the drones are programmed so they don’t go higher than mandated FAA rules or go into restricted, no-fly aviation zones — and all use GPS to do this. Some of the drones even return to the user automatically when their batteries run low.

DJI drone with embedded GPS.

DJI drone with embedded GPS.

DJI offers three cameras for the drones. The high-end Phantom 3 Advanced offers 1080P HD video at 60 frames per second. The 1080P version costs $995.

In terms of privacy and government regulation, U.S. regulators are way behind Europe, Cheng said. “Other countries are way ahead of the [United States] in terms of working with drone companies,” he said. “In terms of privacy, the step ladder was the first tool for the invasion of privacy. They haven’t outlawed step ladders.”

The slow U.S. regulatory process has forced some manufacturers to go to other countries to test their drones, said Roger Sollenberger, 3D Robotics’ editorial director. “[U.S. regulations] have moved slowly here — despite the government knowing about worldwide drone rollouts. In Japan, they have been using drones to crop dust for 20 years,” he said.

Furuno's Don Hanham with GNSS modules at NAB.

Furuno’s Don Hanham with GNSS modules at NAB.

To signal increased interest in the commercial drone market, 3D Robotics raised $70 million dollars in funding, led by investor Qualcomm, Sollenberger said. The company, which partnered with action camera giant Go Pro, says its Solo drones can be used not only by broadcast companies, but for railroad track and building inspections.

As GPS World reported, Furuno Electric Co.’s latest multi-GNSS receiver module, GN-87, has been adopted for the new quadcopter Bebop Drone. The broadcast market has been a good one for company’s timing products, drone integration and even weather prediction, said Don Hanham, a Furuno sales and marketing consultant.

Furuno is marketing its Doppler Weather Radar System for broadcast. The system allows weather predictors to follow the development of short, localized rainstorms and extreme weather conditions.

Booz Allen Hamilton Releases Report on 2015 Automaker Priorities

The era of automotive connectivity, and subsequent heavy competition, is the focus of Booz Allen Hamilton’s new report, “Getting the Customer Experience Right: Auto Industry Priorities in 2015.”

The company says that automakers should consider six key priorities this year: deliver innovation in months, not model years; differentiate with new partnerships to catch customers’ attention; secure connectivity to reinforce a relationship of trust with customers; address the “so what” of connected cars; personalize the customer experience via the tremendous potential buried in data; and find and build the market for alternative fuel vehicles.

In terms of big connected vehicle technologies this year, Jon Allen, a principal with Booz, cites 4G pipe in GM and Audi vehicles and over-the-air updates by Ford and BMW, among others. “New parental controls in the Chevy Malibu report average speed and near misses while also preventing drivers from turning on the stereo until seatbelts are fastened. It’s easy to imagine this across vehicles, with parents receiving text messages in real time,” he said.

Allen said, in terms of vehicle connectivity, automakers must answer the “so what” to set themselves apart from the competition. “We have yet to see the seminal, game-changing connectivity plays. Most companies are still in the ‘features’ mindset, offering new à la carte enhancements,” he said. “They’re not yet articulating a top-down strategy for re-envisioning the customer experience with connectivity.”

One of the company’s six priorities concerns connected security, which has been a big industry issue since the recent release of the Markey Report, which focused on how vehicles can be hacked. “We have clients who get it.  They’ve identified a senior leader to champion vehicle cyber security and backed them up with a cross-functional team that works closely with counterparts across the organization — in product engineering, supply chain, safety, privacy and IT,” Allen said.  “Other OEMs are still formulating their approach. That said, there are pockets of cyber security across every organization, focused on implementing security controls on individual parts. The challenge is taking the next step —moving from this segmented, ‘assembly line approach’ to a more unified program that focuses on securing the complete vehicle ecosystem.”

Allen said the company has to speak honestly to customers and regulators about how to manage vehicle cyber security risk. “Industry leaders must prioritize their security approach to ensure that higher risk scenarios are addressed first, rather than try to take on all elements of the challenge at once,” he said.

Another priority addresses the long lead times, by automakers, to develop and roll out new features, which is a challenge, Allen said. “Consumer electronics, telecommunications and software companies are redefining the traditional industry boundaries that once distinguished them from OEMs. These companies focus on connectivity and services from the start of their product design process,” he said. “The key for automakers going forward is to continue learning from these new competitors, particularly around rethinking the vehicle lifecycle, connected product design, and managing vehicle software updates after purchase. In the near future, automakers will need different approaches to building and enhancing infotainment systems that can keep pace with customer demands.”

The marriage of autonomy and connectivity is a game-changer, Allen said. “It isn’t just about plugging vehicles in to the Internet of Things. Autonomy transforms transportation,” he said. “When a car drives you, it becomes a retail outlet, a personal assistant, even a trusted chaperone — that all depends on getting both autonomy and connectivity right.”

The rise of autonomous vehicles gets to the fundamental need for industry leaders to be willing to reimagine their product, Allen said. “Autonomous capabilities are not just about engineering a safer, more efficient, and more appealing mode of transportation. That’s important, but it’s really about a distinctly different product, one that creates a sustained, services-based relationship with the customer,” he said. “It will focus on the driving experience not just behind the wheel, but sitting comfortably inside of a self-driving vehicle. The connected, autonomous vehicle will change automotive for the better — and forever.”

Allen said his company is seeing OEMs look beyond their individual vehicles to see the emerging connected society that includes ride sharing, multi-modal transportation and connected cities. “The way we go from point A to point B will look and feel drastically different 25 years from now; many OEMs are beginning to accept the change and embrace the challenge,” he said.

About the Author: Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy is GPS World’s editor for location-based services, writing a monthly column for the LBS Insider newsletter. Dennehy has been writing about the location industry for more than 20 years. He covered GPS and location technology for Global Positioning & Navigation News for seven years. His articles on the wireless industry have been published in both consumer and trade magazines and newspapers.

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