Commercial Drone Operations on the Rise | Robotics
As new applications emerge for commercial drones, companies are looking for assistance in drone operations to provide analytics and other system support.
Mobilcom Ltd. in Tel Aviv, Israel, recently completed its first year of activity with its SkyHopper system, a set of commercial and industrial drones that combine hardware, software, integration services, and support. The company said it has worked with customers in 14 countries and has integrated with 45 drone manufacturers worldwide in its first year of the SkyHopper availability.
The SkyHopper system includes communication data links (SkyHopper PRO, SkyHopper One), video processing and analytics (SkyHopper PRO V), content consumption systems (SkyHopper VU), and controlling systems (SkyHopper ControlAir). Industries supported by drone operations include mining, security, infrastructure inspection, and delivery.
Robotics Business Review recently spoke with the company’s CEO, Oren Elkayam, about the company, its achievements, and trends in industrial drone operations.
Q: You recently completed your first year of activity. What businesses and markets have shown the most interest in commercial and industrial drone operations?
Elkayam: While we did just complete our first year of activity with our SkyHopper business unit, which serves commercial and industrial drones and robotics, we have been developing technology for unmanned vehicles in the government and enterprise sector for over five years with our core Mobilicom business unit.
The largest application we currently serve with SkyHopper’s commercial solutions is security and surveillance, followed by mining and process industry operations, and surveying and inspection of infrastructure such as wind turbines and other large utility infrastructure sites.
Q: When companies ask you for help, what are the challenges that they’re facing? Why are they turning to you instead of doing a lot of the flying themselves?
Elkayam: In designing a fully unmanned platform, many of our customers face challenges such as radio communication planning perspectives; payload, control and auto pilot connectivity with the ground control units; as well as implementing more advanced features. As a result, our customers turn to us for a few reasons.
The first is that SkyHopper provides an end-to-end solution that includes hardware and software as well as integration and support services, thereby creating a one-stop shop for commercial drone manufacturers.
The second reason is our experience. SkyHopper alone has been integrated with more than 45 drone manufacturers within the first year.
Furthermore, we have years of experience with our core Mobilicom business unit, in deploying dynamic solutions on air, ground and sea platforms in the government and enterprise sector across North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Finally, while our customers may be experts in the drone itself, we provide them with the expertise in RF and communication that is often in high demand by commercial drone manufacturers.
Altogether, the partnership we have with our customers enables them to move from prototype to real field scenarios in a shorter timeframe and with a high quality, superior product.
Q: Do most companies buy the equipment from you or do they contract you for services?
Elkayam: Most of our customers buy our SkyHopper communication modules, as well as video processing, controller and viewing systems, and then contract us for end-to-end services such as upgrading existing platforms with our systems. These services involve everything from new design, integration with payload and autopilots and up to flight testing prior to delivery of a fully functioning system.
Regulations loosening, but still focus on safety
Q: What are your thoughts on the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program? Do you feel like they’re working on getting better regulations around commercial drone operations? What current restrictions do you think should be loosened or re-regulated?
Elkayam: We feel that although the pace of releasing or softening regulations can be considered somewhat slow, it is mandatory to eventually obtain a safe operation of drones in the public sky.
Given that we have operations worldwide, we are also in tune with regulatory environments around the globe. We see drone manufacturers and service providers working hand-in-hand with regulators in the U.S. as well as in other countries to carefully define the future of our safe skies and slowly presenting more opportunities to integrate drones into ‘real life’ applications, thereby moving beyond remote, isolated mission-based operations.
As far as current restrictions, today, Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights are very restricted. This is an area, once loosened, that will enable longer flights and in turn the implementation of many more in-demand drone operations such as delivery.
Q: Where do you see the commercial drone industry heading – better drones, improved communications, farther flights, etc.?
Elkayam: All of the above. As with any disruptive technology, with the food comes the appetite, and we definitely see longer ranges, higher throughputs and more complex applications.
As demand grows for drones across many commercial applications, drone manufacturers will need to focus on making their businesses scalable – meaning the ability to fly multiple drones at once, as well as ensuring the safety and security of the drones and their surroundings.
As a result, drones will need to become autonomous and conduct fleet management and swarm operations. They will need to have the highest level of security and encryption and they will need to employ cloud-based operations. In aligning with the aspirations of a growing commercial drone market, SkyHopper has taken steps to ensure its technology and offerings lend itself to these drone operations.
Q: What goals do you have for SkyHopper as you enter the second year of drone operations?
Elkayam: Our first goal is to continue to grow the business of our customers. This means to continue to service our customers with unmatched attention to detail and ensure our offerings fit their needs. In our first year, we obtained a large number of customers. As we have moved into our second year of business, our focus is more on scaling up their businesses.
Our second goal is to further expand our business with Tier 1 manufacturers and to expand to support drone service providers. We are happy to have many repeat customers, and this is the best sign we are moving in the right path.