Tell us something about your current position and your professional background
After graduating with a degree in Poetry, I found myself interested in entrepreneurship and still very interested in aviation. I continued to pursue my love of aviation via model aircraft. Over the next 8 years, I started a number of different companies ranging from e-commerce, to advertising, to consulting but I still felt something was missing. I wanted to work in aviation and I knew that I wouldn’t be happy until I did. As luck would have it, this was about the time that the drone revolution really started to pick up steam. In 2014, I tried my hand at starting a drone delivery startup. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm it received from the press didn’t match the enthusiasm from potential investors. It was good because it forced me to do a gut-check. Did I really believe that drones were going to change the way people work? Was the commercial drone industry inevitable? When I thought about the answers, I knew that the commercial drone industry was imminent, inevitable, and about to be incredibly influential in the world. I knew that for the commercial drone industry to scale and be viable, there would need to be software to power it. That’s the day I started working on Kittyhawk.
“You’ll know the drone revolution has arrived when nobody is talking about the drone revolution. I can’t wait to be boring.“ – Joshua Ziering
What are your perspectives on the drone in the next years?
Joshua Ziering: There are three critical factors that are going to unleash the potential of the UAS industry in the coming years. The first is commoditized hardware. To date, it’s been an arms race to see who can innovate their hardware stack the fastest. This bears a strong resemblance to what we saw in personal computers. The difference between 233mHz and 533mHz was drastic. Today, it’s difficult to tell the difference from one model of computer to the next. The systems have gotten so powerful that unless you’re doing all but the most intensive tasks, they’re good enough. Drones are about to reach the inflection point, if they haven’t already, of being ‘good enough’.
The second factor is 5G connectivity. In addition to paving the way for a robust BVLOS data link, the 5G connectivity means that the process of moving the data from the drones internal storage to the cloud is going to largely disappear. As the drone is able to move data from itself to the cloud in real time, we’ll see all kinds of near-real-time value adds from the power of the cloud — processing, AI, etc.
Lastly, regulations are going to solidify and provide a framework to operate in new and exciting ways that weren’t possible without a significant investment of resources and time before. Operations like BVLOS, multi-drone-single-operator, and drones large than 55lbs all have the capacity to change not just how we think about drones but how we think about logistics as a whole. For example, many impoverished indigenous people living in remote areas pay exorbitant prices for groceries and experts think that it’s because of the logistics of moving the food. Drones have a unique opportunity to help situations like this in surprising ways.
What do you think are the next milestones which should be completed to strengthen the UAS market?
Joshua Ziering: We’ve seen how the pilot program for LAANC has opened up a lot of airspace that was previously not available to commercial pilots. It’s an exciting first step here in the United States. At the end of 2018, NASA is going to present their findings on creating a UTM to the FAA. This is the very first step of allowing regulators to create what will eventually be a full-fledged low-altitude traffic control system. This will enable urban air mobility like flying-taxis and drones to have the framework to coexist.
I’m looking forward to a UTM solution in the United States as the next significant milestone in the UAS industry.
According to many clients, the barrier to integrating a drone technology into an enterprise is still quite high. What do you think are the reasons for that?
Joshua Ziering: I would contend that the barrier has never been lower. At Kittyhawk, I’m lucky to get a first-hand look at a plethora of enterprises and how they’re implementing drone programs. The biggest change that we’ve seen is the attitude of the enterprises are changing. Prior to 2018, we saw a lot of enterprises weary of assuming the risk of a drone program. Then, once they started deriving value from the drone program being outsourced, they realized it was not materially different to have the drone program move in-house. We’re seeing this critical inflection point happening over and over in giant enterprises.
Full-stack management systems claim to lower this barrier. How mature is this market in your eyes and what are the success factors for these sorts of systems?
Joshua Ziering: A full stack solution correctly implemented is going to break down the barriers for moving drones into the enterprise. The full stack solution solves a few key challenges. First, enterprises don’t like having data flowing about multiple vendors. A confusing mish-mash of EULA’s, Privacy Policies, and Licenses is challenging for any enterprise to scale.
Second, a full stack solution allows the enterprise to train their entire team on one platform. That platform becomes the center of the drone operations in the organization and standardizes the interactions. Imagine having to train a team of 500 or 1000 on 5 different applications/platforms that are all constantly evolving. That’s a living nightmare. Full stack solutions solve this problem.