How To Develop a Smart Drone Strategy: Q&A with Department 13

drone strategy“In the next 10 years, the sky will be full of drones,” predicts Jonathan Hunter, CEO of Department 13, a publicly traded company based in Columbia, Maryland, that is developing commercial counter-drone technology. “It will be just as common to see a drone as it is to not see a drone.”

Hunter spent 20 years working in defense, federal law enforcement, and the commercial sector. He’s a former US Army explosive ordnance officer with several deployments to Afghanistan and Bosnia. Those experiences provided knowledge around electronic warfare and informed his approach to drones, he says.

Department 13’s Mesmer system can detect and mitigate drones in national security and defense situations. The low-power technology allows for safe takeover to prevent drones from harming people, damaging infrastructure, or stealing intellectual property.

Given the growth of commercial drones, especially within the energy sector, we caught up with Hunter to find out how energy managers can develop smart strategies around deploying drones — and protecting against nefarious ones.

How are drones currently being used?

Most of the drones currently being used in the energy sector are for inspections, testing, some type of surveillance or reconnaissance of areas, big plots of land, pipelines.

What are the biggest advantages of using drones?

Inspections cost money and take time. It takes time to climb up a pole or put a person in a cherry picker. We’re talking permits pulled and days or weeks to now hours with the efficiency a drone. The time piece is key as it pertains to inspections of current infrastructure.

For the energy sector, disaster recovery — which lines do we have to recover first? Drones can cover great swaths. You did see a lot of drone use by energy companies in Harvey and also in Puerto Rico, where they put up drones to survey the area and understand which areas were impacted the worst.

Companies such as ExxonMobil and refineries have big campuses to patrol. They’re now leveraging the use of drones for the efficiencies, and the ability to do the inspections without having to put a human in a riskier environment.

What are the biggest challenges?

Understanding liability regulations. What does it mean to certify my drone pilot? And what is the cost associated with it? What are my liabilities if one of the drones I’m using flies into a person? Also, can I fly a drone here?

There are still a lot of unknowns, but companies are starting to do use cases to identify the cost-benefit analysis.

If they don’t already have a drone strategy, what should energy managers do to develop one?

Put together a committee to look at incorporating drone technology. Incorporate your security, legal, operations, and some of your logistics members to review the actual use case. What do we have to do to leverage drones, what are the legal ramifications if we do have a drone, and what is our liability if a drone affects something in a negative way? And how do we mitigate risk?

Build a detailed, thorough use case or use cases. Leverage expertise. A great place to start is the FAA website. They have details about what it takes to fly commercial drones, what Part 107 means, what airspace are we flying in — information you have to worry about when incorporating drone technology into your everyday operations.

Let’s talk about security concerns with drones.

The dangers with drones come in three categories: the nuisance drones, the criminal drones, or the terrorist act. Let’s say a kid crashes his drone into an electrical pole. Usually the first thing people want to do is make within 500 feet of electrical power lines a no-fly zone. That may take care of nuisance drones, but a criminal who wants to cut power to a building, how do you mitigate that?

There are several ways you can mitigate drones: kinetic, non-kinetic, jamming, not jamming, or incorporating technologies such as ours where we take control of the drone and fly it to a designated spot. There are options, and you’re seeing companies starting to evaluate their needs.

When considering these options, what are the main considerations?

You’ve always got to start with the budget. What is my liability if I don’t do something? What is my risk profile? What risk am I willing to accept?

Then, what technology is on the fringe of legislative changes. What can we do today, and what can we do tomorrow? A bill that’s coming out of the House provides for new technologies to basically take over a drone. That’s significant. It would be the first time that’s been done. That creates a whole other area of risk — and risk mitigation.

What’s next for drones in the commercial and industrial space?

In the next three years, I think you’ll see drones adopted by almost every major sector at some level of operations. In the next 10 years, drones will be incorporated into a communications, logistics, and transportation network. Drones will fly over our heads. I’m excited. There’s a lot of opportunity coming.

The 3rd Annual Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference takes place May 15 – 17, 2018 in Denver. Learn more here.

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