Considerations for the Enterprise drone user


Chris Blackford Co-Founder & COO,

We are still at the dawn of the drone age for Enterprise. Education remains a key stage in the development of this market for Enterprise. They don’t know what they don’t know. Sky-Futures are well positioned to be the enabler here; we are the company already unlocking this capability for Enterprise globally. With over 6 years of commercial experience in the drone-based industrial inspection market, we understand the end-to-end process that sits behind drone-based inspections. The drone, the inspection technique and the data analysis software are all important elements, but in isolation they do not bring full value. It is the sum of the parts coupled with the underlying ‘glue’ that brings the real value. That ‘glue’ is not only experience in the market but also an understanding of the end-to-end process and the importance of the inspection workflow. This process includes consultancy, training, operations, data collection and data analysis. Our Enterprise solution ensures that the drone-data is captured safely, efficiently and correctly, and that the inspection data is analysed, interpreted and presented in a way to support the decision making of the Enterprise customer.

Qualified and quantified inspection data is the valuable product for the Enterprise customer. Ensuring the integrity and security of the end-to-end data collection process is very important. Based on this, I will cover three areas of consideration for the Enterprise drone user.

1.Managing your data and data security

2. Drone mission planning and fleet management

3. Fitting the drone-based inspection into the Enterprise workflow

1. Managing your data and data security

Sky-Futures understand data and data security. Our software platform is built around this understanding. As an Enterprise customer, you own your asset/facility data and protecting it is very important. This relates not just to the inspection data collected but also the drone data. The data from the drone (telemetry, geospatial etc.) is just as important to the Enterprise customer as the inspection data: imagery; thermal; video etc.

Social media is awash with articles referencing concerns over drone data and data security. Enterprise cares about its data, the value behind that data, where it is stored, who has access to it and what third parties might do with it. Market sector does not matter, the value and security of the data is the same. To support the data and security needs of Enterprise customers, Sky-Futures offers a drone agnostic software platform: Expanse Flightdeck and Expanse Inspection. Unlike most companies, we are not tied to a specific drone manufacturer or country. The data you collect is stored on a highly secure, cloud-based network that can be local to you – our customer. For example, if you are an American Enterprise customer, your inspection data (imagery, video etc) and drone data (telemetry, geospatial etc) will be stored on US based servers. This provides you with the reassurance that your data is safe and secure and not being used or accessed by third parties. We can also offer the customer a choice of country for their data to be stored, and therefore which legal and data protection laws that data comes under. Our solution can give you the confidence that your data is safe.

2. Drone mission planning and fleet management

The commercial airlines, even as recently as 3 years ago, were still using paper charts. Then the iPad came along. Software and apps quickly began to transform the way pilots interface and manage aviation planning and information. The same shift in the operational management of drones for commercial use has also happened. With Enterprise now more likely to take drone operations in-house rather than out-sourcing to third party service providers, the need for an end-to-end drone mission planning and fleet management software is ever more important. Safety, operational compliance and an audit trail is of ever greater importance to not only the Enterprise drone operator but also the regulator, third party auditor and insurance providers.

The digital transformation should be helping intelligently not hindering. For this to be as seamless as possible, the end-to-end workflow, information and decision making process all need to be made on one piece of software. It was with this unique insight and a blank sheet of paper that we set about creating the cloud-based mission planning and fleet management tool that we know today as Expanse Flightdeck. With over six years of commercial drone operations know-how, we have developed a software platform that enables all the functionality required to safely run as many pilots, drones and missions as Enterprise requires. This maximises the potential that drone technology offers without compromising on safety and operational performance. Flightdeck allows Enterprise customers to safely and professionally exploit the unique capabilities of drones and the power of drone-driven data.

Alongside the management of individual drone missions and a drone fleet, Flightdeck provides a unique tool for drone users that ties back to the management of Enterprise data and data security. Within the Flightdeck platform, customer data separation, security and encryption is a given, and something we will not compromise on. Once a drone mission has been completed, users can upload all the data to the our cloud. Within this functionality is Flight Playback. This allows the user to log and record the telemetry of each and every drone flight. That data is stored in our 3D world and is visually represented with the flightpath of the drone around the site it flew – in 3D. Not only does this offer a visual insight in to your drone operations, it also means your drone telemetry data is stored in a secure, cloud-based environment personal to you. Something that can only be accessed by you and hosted on servers in your country of choice. Furthermore, we will be releasing new technology that will ensure there is absolute security around the data and telemetry captured by a drone.

3. Fitting the drone-based inspection into the Enterprise workflow

Drones have always offered the lure of the ‘Big 3’ to Enterprise customers: faster, safer and cheaper. Whilst there is no denying that each of the ‘Big 3’ bring value it is also important to recognise that on their own they do not provide total value. If the ‘Big 3’ are treated individually or separate to the normal workflow of the Enterprise customer, their long-term value is limited. Particularly, in terms of widespread adoption. To really ‘move the needle’, particularly in established, conservative industry sectors, it cannot be assumed or expected that drones will simply replace existing work practices overnight by being faster, safer and cheaper. In the adoption phase, drones and data software need to be worked in to the existing workflow whether this is for inspections or surveys. What hasn’t changed is where the value lies – the end product or the data. How that data is captured is less important and therefore there is greater emphasis not on the drone but on the software that supports the data capture and analysis. Many software platforms still present a siloed perspective on the data captured by a drone. For example, a Digital Elevation Model (DEM), a point cloud or a picture of part of a structure. Whilst this presentation of data may have it uses it does not fit the workflow. When using drones for inspections, there is a decision-making process that follows the data reporting phase. This supports the continuation of the inspection and maintenance cycle: inspect again; fix; or do nothing. This process does not stop. Presenting a 3D model or a picture, does not support the decision making process for the Enterprise customer, nor does it fit in to their inspection and maintenance workflow.

Sky-Futures designed and built Expanse Inspection to support this end-to-end inspection workflow whilst still being faster, safer and cheaper. The presentation layer of the software is shiny and easy to use but beneath that layer is a complex architecture that fits the specific workflow used by Enterprise for inspections and maintenance. This is where the true value lies in our platform. Value that has been learnt by delivering inspections ourselves for many years, by talking directly to customers and understanding their pain points and where their inspection and data workflow falls down or becomes congested.

We are supporting Enterprise customers not only by enabling them to deliver drone-based inspections but also by supporting them with the right tools for detailed data analysis, data presentation and data security. We understand the needs of the Enterprise customer and our vision and technology supports where they want to go with drone-based operations.

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