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Drones – where do UAVs fit into AV?

With the Drone Pavilion about to make another outing at ISE 2017, Ian McMurray canvasses some opinions on where drones have the greatest potential in the AV world.

Drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles, if you prefer – have, let’s face it, had a pretty bad rap over recent years. The armed forces have been vilified for their use. They’re said to have caused numerous aviation near-misses. And now, it seems, they’re being used to smuggle drugs and phones into prisons.

Stampede, however – the company behind the Drone Pavilion at ISE, InfoComm and other trade shows – is convinced that drones have a real future in the AV industry.

“We’ve returned to ISE because the reaction from European integrators and end users was overwhelmingly positive last year,” says Kevin Kelly, president and COO of Stampede. “If you come to our pavilion, you’ll immediately see the excitement in the eyes of the attendees. At ISE 2017 we’re showcasing an even broader range of drone offerings that span a larger range of applications, from the simple to the extremely complex.”

He notes that Stampede’s network “is twice the size it was last year since our acquisition
of Just Lamps”.

However, some integrators don’t – yet – share Kelly’s enthusiasm.

“I visited the Drone Pavilion at ISE 2016, and wasn’t convinced there was an opportunity,” notes Gareth Lloyd, group communications manager at integrator Saville Audio Visual. “I think people are trying to force the technology to be something it isn’t. I think one thing that is missed is that, to all intents and purposes, a drone is just a camera that can fly – so where would you need a camera that can fly in a typical AV integrated system? It’s not much use in a boardroom or a lecture theatre, I would suggest, and the existing technologies already tick the box quite nicely.

“It’s definitely a case of trying to fit a round peg into a square hole,” he smiles.

Lloyd is not the only sceptic.

“From a network installation side, they would be useful to be able to view external cable routes over rooftops and so on that you normally can’t access on a site survey,” adds Derek Pyle, installation manager at CDEC. “With AV, I’m not sure what the application could be, since I can’t see any use on surveys.”

Others, however, are intrigued by what drones might bring.

“The reason we haven’t got involved with drones so far is that they we couldn’t see how they might fit with our business model as an integrator,” explains Bryan Edwards, head of technical sales at Reflex. “However: as an organisation, we try to be very open-minded about what the future might hold so we have invited Stampede to support our end-user event next month. We’ll be very interested to see and hear our customers’ reaction.”

But what of those companies who focus on specific market areas beyond boardrooms and the like? On security, for example, or control centres? Both would seem likely to be able to leverage the potential of drones.

“I’ve only ever seen one application where a drone was deployed,” says Frankie Bellavia, head of sales, security at distributor Midwich. “A perimeter detector had been activated on a private estate which had 24/7 man guarding. We may possibly see applications in high net worth private homes, but not really in the corporate sector due to public space issues.”

Niche sector

“It’s currently a niche sector and, ultimately, we see the need for it to be scrutinised by the Data Protection Act and Civil Aviation Authority,” he continues. “Once legislation is clearly defined, that would have an impact as to whether we would consider drone technology as part of our portfolio.

“You may see the use of drone technology in the utilities sector, mainly for use in area surveillance, land survey or perimeter fence integrity assessment,” Bellavia concludes.

Barco, with its extensive control room experience, is a company that immediately comes to mind for such applications. Hans Dekeyser is the company’s VP, strategic marketing I&G, sees a fit.

“Our solutions take in sensor information from a wide variety of devices,” he says, “and our technology and market focus is on the ingestion, processing and distribution of that information. Video streamed from drones is one of many. Moreover, as far as the display of a Common Operational Picture is concerned, drones are an interesting addition to the sensor spectrum in that they not only receive video or pictures but can also, depending on the technology, intercept communication signals, recognise faces, trace and identify people and objects, record behaviour and report on anomalies. This opens good perspectives in civil security and surveillance applications.”