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Did you miss the latest Drones Data X Conference in Dublin last week? Read my review!


I spent a very enjoyable day in the company of top drone industry experts at the latest Drones Data X Conference in Dublin, on Nov. 3, 2016.

The Drones Data X Conference, a high-quality B2B drone conference, is held twice a year in California and Ireland.

Philip McNamara has organized the Drones Data X Conference along with his incredibly efficient partner Suzanne Jordan since 2014, both of them ensuring Ireland is at the forefront of the developing drone industry.

SAR (Search & Rescue) Workshop

As part of the event, I got to take part in a Search & Rescue Workshop presided over by Romeo Durscher, Director of Education, DJI.

Romeo talked about Project EENA and their findings to date. Ralph James of the Irish Aviation Authority spoke about the regulations as far as first responders are concerned and Oisin McGrath of DroneSAR gave a presentation on revolutionizing search and rescue with the aid of drones and the DroneSAR app.

The Conference

Philip began the Conference by talking about the potential of the drone industry.

He reflected on the advent of the Apple iPod, the 1st version of which was released 15 years ago in October 2001. It could hold 1000 mp3 songs. By 2014, iTunes Store offered more than 37 million songs available for purchase. Apple didn’t just create a piece of hardware, they created potential.

We can extrapolate that with DJI’s creation of the Phantom drone. They created the momentum behind an exploding industry, whose potential we are only beginning to realise.

Philip introduced Mick Murray, Head of International Corp Banking, AIB who welcomed us to the Drones Data X Conference. He was excited for AIB to be a part of the emerging drone industry in Ireland.

Mick was followed by Jack Dashwood, Marketing Director at Movidius.

Movidius is an Irish Chip Manufacturer that was recently acquired by IntelMovidius is Sci-Fi now, rather than light years away!

Jack talked to us about machine driven intelligence, smart cameras and surveillance and the potential autonomy offers, in part thanks to Movidius technology.

Their chips have an added advantage in that they can execute concurrent, mission-critical workloads, in real time at very high capability using very low power. They use Deep Learning to ensure their chip architecture balances computational performance and power without costing the earth.

How does one follow Jack on stage with his awesome future-tech? Well, you introduce Ralph James, Director of Safety Regulation at the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA).

Ralph’s background is emersed in Aviation having been a pilot with the Irish Air Force before becoming Director of the IAA.

Up until the first commercial civilian drone launched in Ireland around 2012, regulation in Irish airspace was generally about airplanes and the odd model aircraft.  Now, the IAA see a large part of their job as helping the drone industry through that same system of regulation.

They saw the number of drones being purchased increasing exponentially and they acted accordingly by creating a set of drone regulations and subsequently adjusting them before Christmas 2015,  allowing unlicensed drone operators to also work commercially with more restrictions. They acknowledge they didn’t do a perfect job, but they feel they have it about 90% correct.

In taking the lead on this they have become one of the ‘go-to’ for many countries who are playing catch up now.

Drone technology is changing so fast, the IAA needed to have regulations in place quickly, but they are not set in stone. It all comes back to safety and keeping people and property safe is their priority.

We tend to forget that drones are aircraft! In Ireland, we currently have 138 licensed pilots (our own CEO, Steven Flynn was the 3rd registered drone pilot in Ireland) and we have over 6,000 registered drones. The register is still growing by 6-10 drones a day.

Among licensed pilots, we have photographers, videographers, scientists, survey engineers, telecoms engineers,  Fire Department, An Garda Síochána (police) and as far as the IAA are concerned, the same rules should apply to all for the safety of everyone.

There are many drone operators in the quasi-government services industry. The IAA don’t treat first responders any differently. Safety applies to everyone and the key is mitigation of risk.

Ralph encouraged Government Services Operators, for example, Bord Fáilte (Tourist Board), to adhere to the rules and regulations as issued by the IAA. This would mean not acquiring drone footage which has been taken illegally for example, higher than 120 meters or over a sporting event or concert.

At the moment, the IAA require drones to be registered that are 1kg and above. The advent of the DJI Mavic Pro which weighs 743g, and the probability of high powered drones with high-resolution cameras getting smaller, faster and staying airborne for longer periods, will mean registration requirements will be addressed again in the future.

One thing Ralph James is very vocal about  is the negative press surrounding the drone industry.

The public is worried about privacy and data protection. He feels that the drone industry needs to promote the positive face of drones moving forward.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have just produced a prototype document of safety regulations for the European Union. It is 55 pages with 17 extra pages of explanations. Ireland’s IAA current drone regulations run to 3 pages!

There is a big divide in Europe. There are a number of states who want to encourage the drone industry versus states that want tougher regulations like medical certs for operators, etc. Ireland is a minority in Europe. A positive media image of UAVs is required to allow the technology to improve and grow.

Ralph James was followed by Michael Drobac, Executive Director, Small UAV Coalition.

The Small UAV Coalition consists of many of the leading technical companies like Google [X], Airmap, Amazon Prime Air, Kespry, PrecisionHawk and Intel, who believe further development of UAVs can benefit all aspects of our lives. They want to see the development of infrastructure to safely manage low-altitude airspace for example to enable drone deliveries.

They also want to see risk-based regulations to allow for safe integration of small UAVs into the US national airspace, and they work with policymakers and regulators to achieve these objectives.

Vernon Kerswell, CEO of Extreme Flyers spoke about bringing his Micro Drone 3.0 to fruition after an Indiegogo campaign which raised $3,539,148:  3077% of the target set.

The Micro Drone 3.0 can film in HD and all the parts snap together to make assembly easy. Vernon finished his talk with a small demo of the Micro Drone 3.0 in action, flying it around the top of the room.

Patrick Imbasciani, Senior Director of International Business Development at PrecisionHawk, gave us all a brief outline of PrecisionHawk and how it has been given permission to fly beyond line of sight as an FAA Pathfinder Partner.

PrecisionHawk is working with the FAA on developing standards and procedures for extended line-of-sight.

PrecisionHawk would like to partner with other drone companies that it feels would be a good fit for them within the drone industry. In this regard, they have a formed an alliance with Insitu.

Tony Davis, COO of Irelandia Aviation, the world’s top low-cost airline developer, spoke of their interest in becoming involved in the drone industry and the potential in this burgeoning industry.

Irelandia sees UAVs as the next frontier of aviation. They are also keen on the potential of the humanitarian use of drones and are currently working with Unicef. They have invested in Verifly who offer drone insurance.

Irelandia Aviation feels Ireland is the perfect location to become a global leader in the drone field as we are already a world leader in Technology with Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all having their European Headquarters here. Tony said,  “It is music to my ears that the Irish Aviation Authority are willing to work with UAV businesses”.

Romeo Durscher, Director of Education at DJI spoke about the work DJI is doing in Search and Rescue.

He predicted that within five years 66% of first responders will be using drones in emergency situations. DJI have a partnership with European Emergency Number Association (EENA) to research and test drones in this area.

They asked for volunteer organizations to help research and they got 45 entities responding. Out of these 45, 4 pilot test sites were chosen, one of them being Donegal Mountain Rescue in Ireland.

After a number of search & rescue trials, the DJI Drone found the subject 6-8 times faster than a 5-member team on foot. There is a lot more research and testing to be done but the prognosis is positive – that drones can be a major help in emergency situations.

2 Irish Startups Launch

We had two exciting launches at the Drones, Data X Conference, the first one being DroneSAR a search and rescue app developed by an Irish Team consisting of Matthew Kelly, Leo Murray, Gearoid O’Briain and Oisin McGrath in collaboration with DJI and EENA.

Gearoid O’Briain, CEO of DroneSAR spoke of how their app was developed to strengthen a drone’s role when it’s used in a search and rescue mission.

The drone can be used to eliminate where a victim is not, thereby saving time which could be critical for a victim.

By using the app with a DJI drone, multiple flight patterns can be checked, pilots can take over from each other without redoing the same area and the app can share the victim’s location by various means.

The second launch was our own Skytango (www.skytango.com).

Our CEO Steven Flynn pushed the button and our global marketplace and integrated app for drone operations went live.

Through our marketplace, built with the support of BBC News and Audio Network, content buyers can buy drone footage, or look for drone operators on a live map, book them, download the job and pay.

Drone operators can curate their profile and stock with free licensed music from Audio Network and sell drone footage.

They can also bid on jobs and get hired for their services. Skytango’s innovative field app allows them to create and receive checklists, receive push notifications from buyers, and be visible on a live map.

Our partnerships allow for insurance and hardware discounts, and the first partners to offer discounts through the platform include Quadrocopter, UAV Protect, and Drone Cover. It’s early days and we have huge plans for the future.

Following both launches, a panel discussion took place with Philip McNamara asking Tom Shinkwin of Enterprise Equity, Nels R. Nelsen of Menalto Advisors and Terence Liston of AIB to discuss where their investment interests lie.

That’s all from me! Just so you know, the Conference in Dublin was followed by an action packed VIP week-end on Achill Island with the Pure Magic Crew. And for Keith and Dave of the Irish Drone Nationals, a chance to show off their FPV skills by flying their quads around Achill Island Brewery!

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