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Opinion: why drones are a major pro AV opportunity

Bob Snyder looks at the impact drones are having across different sectors and argues that they could do the same for the pro-AV industry.

Drones could provide the boost the pro-AV industry is looking for, says Bob Snyder.

DHL now uses drones in a field trial for parcel delivery, transporting needed drugs from a seaport to a pharmacy on the North Sea island of Juist. The delivery company calls this flying system their Paketkopter, while the aviation industry calls it generically a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and the EU prefers RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft system). The public know it better as a drone, a ‘D’ word the industry feels has been damned by military use and would rather avoid as a label.

An aerial drone is basically a robot capable of both remotely controlled flight and fully autonomous flight, controlled by onboard computers, sensors and GPS. Drone types include airplanes, helicopters, quadcopters and blimps.

Drones sit at the junction between four industries: IT, aviation, robotics – and video. An unmanned vehicle by itself may be fun to control but is relatively useless. Add a camera and intelligent sensors and you have a powerful business tool.

How powerful? Some large agricultural concerns consider the drone their most important piece of kit after their combine harvesters. Farmers fly drones to check on the health of crops in the fields.

The recent Commercial UAV Show in London highlighted how facility managers use drones to check on the outside structure of their skyscrapers. The oil and gas industry buys drones to follow remote pipelines, looking for faults. Security managers fly drones for surveillance at industrial centres. Fire and rescue train to fly drones for emergency services. Archaeologists want drones for aerial surveying of clues for dig sites. Hollywood buys drones for filming far more scenic panoramas.

Industry researchers predict the drone industry will be bigger than the PC business. And the most important application feature is almost always… video.

At the small business level, local photographers add zest to their wedding photography via drones. Land surveyors use drones. Safety consultants at sites such as quarries find drones indispensable for audits and inspections. Real estate agents impress prospective buyers with all-encompassing drone videos of houses and property.

Drone consultant companies now exist to guide enterprises on drone uptake. And you have rent-a-drone and drone-as-a-service companies emerging everywhere.

All this activity despite the fact governments and aviation feel traumatised by the pace of this particular technology. Drones save money, add vital intelligence, and perform jobs that once required helicopters or otherwise just didn’t get done at all. Industry is clamouring for drones and as money flies in politics, the governments are expected to speed up their response time.

Not knowing about the impending drone explosion is like growing up in the early 1960s and not knowing about the Beatles. Yes, it’s really drone mania out there.

How does our industry intersect with drones? Drones thrive when fitted with video cameras with as much resolution as possible. Video now is usually stored on media and retrieved when the mission has ended. But many drone users want to stream timely video when possible and affordable.

Where pro AV comes in is exactly where the video comes in. Video will be streamed or walked into existing control rooms and business departments. In other cases, departments inexperienced in video will have to create brand new video stations. The key to successful ‘droning’ is the handling, display and analysis of video (and its sensor reports that add information, such as temperature or gas detection).

Drone technology is an important purveyor of the new Big Data trend that IT so loves. Drone service providers hope to add more value by quickly interpreting video and data and turning it into actionable management information.

Video must be transported from drone to office, displayed, analysed and even shared across company and business units. This newest influx of corporate, NGO and government video should create business opportunities for pro-AV companies that can anticipate needs.

If you follow the assumption that pro-AV professionals are the most knowledgeable people on how to create, distribute and display high-resolution video, then you can certainly imagine there are drones in your future. Especially now that you know to look out for drone business as a sign to wayfinding more video business.