Once the province of hobbyists, drones have left the hype cycle and are starting to become a major part of business for industrial sectors like construction and oil. Goldman Sachs estimates that drones will account for $100 billion of business value by 2020. There has been one thing holding commercial drone use back – and that’s working with the FAA to obtain flight authorizations, which can be a time-consuming process. But that’s now about to change.
In a collaboration with Boeing, enterprise drone software company Kittyhawk will be able to make the FAA’s new program for faster drone authorizations accessible to its own customers. Beginning Tuesday, its customers will be able to use its platform to obtain near-real time authorizations for drone flights. That’s because Boeing is one of only ten of companies that participated in the FAA’s closed beta of drone authorizations, one of only three to use that beta to help create software available to the public.
“Our collaboration with Boeing means it will be faster for us to offer airspace authorizations in the next coming weeks,” said Kittyhawk cofounder and CEO Josh Ziering.
This capability is now possible because the first phase of the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) began rolling out on Monday. This program allows drone pilots to receive fast authorizations from the FAA in order to fly drones under 400 feet in a variety of applications. For the first phase, 150 airport geographic and metropolitan areas will be opened to the program, followed by 350 more as the year goes on.
Kittyhawk isn’t the only company that’s going to be offering an app-based platform to authorize drone flights through LAANC. It will be competing against other companies such as the Airbus and DJI-backed startup AirMap and SkyWard, which was acquired by Verizon last year.
But Ziering says his company differentiates itself not only because of its partnership with Boeing, but also because of its software’s ability to manage every phase of drone operation. Through its SaaS services, the company provides operations and management solutions for drone flights in real-time. Those services include keeping flight logs, providing weather data on a hyperlocal basis, mission planning, maintenance management and more.
“We aim to be the operating system for drones,” he said.
The company’s customers use its software to manage a variety of drone applications, from oil & gas inspections to emergency management to construction use. In addition to the subscription SaaS services the company provides, it’s also able to equip cameras to drones to livestream different locations on a pay-as-you-go basis.
“We can livestream from a drone securely to anyone else in the world,” Ziering said.
Once the LAANC program has rolled out to the entire country, the company estimates that it will be able to at least double the number of drone flights its able to manage with its software. And, Ziering adds, with this regulatory hurdle out of the way, he expects this capability will get companies that aren’t using drones to start thinking about using them.
“This is going to allow people to do work with drones faster,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it because it’s great that people will be able to touch drones in a positive way they haven’t been able to before.”