Pictometry, a subsidiary of EagleView Technology Corporation, will be working on a research project with NYSEARCH/Northeast Gas Association, a consortium of natural gas companies across the U.S. and Canada. Pictometry will be collaborating with NUAIR, both discussed in previous posts, to research the “feasibility of using UAS to improve the overall safety and speed of routine and emergency surveys and inspections of pipelines for gas utilities.”
The project is intended to develop methods to image natural gas pipelines and possibly use methane detectors as well. This comes on the heels of a recent FAA grant of a 333 exemption to San Diego Gas and Electric Company to use UAS for infrastructure imaging. Utility companies from production to delivery are excited about the potential UAS have to reduce costs, reduce the risk from dangerous inspection activities, and increase the reliability of their systems.
Pictrometry also recently helped found the Property Drone Consortium (PDC). From their website: “The Property Drone Consortium represents a collaboration among insurance carriers, construction industry leaders and supporting enterprises who have agreed to work together to promote research, development and the establishment of regulations for the use of Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) technology across the insurance and construction industries.”
Amazon Prime Air
Amazon has been making quite a bit of news, in what appears to be a coordinated media response to the FAA regulatory processes. Amazon granted exclusive access to its Canadian UAV test site to Guardian reporter Ed Pilkington.
The FAA reported to great fanfare on March 19 that it had granted Amazon an Experimental Use Certificate for its testing programs. Days later, Amazon told Congress that it was useless because they had moved on to more advanced designs while waiting for FAA approval.
We now find out that they have relocated their testing less than a mile over the border into Canada, taking with them a NASA astronaut, the designer of the wingtips for Boeing’s 787 airliner, and “a formidable team of roboticists, software engineers, aeronautics experts and pioneers in remote sensing.” Amazon said it was hoping to develop Prime Air in the U.S., but testing indoors is limiting and their frustration with regulators is evident – and not unreasonable.
For example, the article states that the FAA granted 48 “outdoor drone testing licenses” (I believe they mean Experimental Use Certificates) while Transport Canada granted 1,672 commercial drone certificates in 2014. This is a daunting difference, and I doubt anyone can reasonably argue that Canada is taking safety for granted. In addition, Diana Cooper, head of the Unmanned Aerial Systems and Robotics Practice Group at LaBarge Weinstein said that other American companies have contacted her about UAS opportunities in Canada.
I hope that the U.S. can maintain its edge in UAS R&D, but stories like this are disheartening. Larry Downes wrote What’s Wrong with the FAA’s New Drone Rules in last month’s Harvard Business Review. It is a great article about the problems with the FAA’s approach – one being its refusal to consider beyond line of sight operations such as those envisioned by Amazon.
Both the Guardian and HBR article are great, so I encourage you to read them in their entirety.