Commercial drone users have not had the luxury of dealing with the relaxed FAA recreational regulations. Instead of the “Fly for Fun” guidelines, commercial users have followed the much stricter “Small Unmanned Aircraft System Rule.” Despite the restrictions the FAA has placed on commercial drone use, PwC places the value of this market at $127 billion.

While the technical capabilities of drones have far outpaced UAS regulation, the FAA’s new ‘Part 107’ is completely changing the commercial drone game.

What were once dreams of potential drone applications are becoming possible and companies can start living up to the market potential.

What Does Part 107 Mean for You?

In years past, regulations for commercial drone usage required you to have a pilot’s license and plenty of paperwork. The average company was looking at $15,000 for one employee to be licensed and maybe 6 to 9 months of paperwork just to fly one basic mission. Even then, the FAA laid heavy restrictions against usage. The business value just wasn’t there.

As of August 29, 2016, the FAA will release Part 107 to blow open commercial drone use. Now, businesses can enjoy some of the more relaxed rules that recreational users have followed for years. In addition to completing a $150 UAV certification process and online test, businesses must adhere to the following safety guidelines:

  • Aircrafts must remain in the pilot’s line of sight at all times.
  • Drones can fly up to 400 feet in the air.
  • Cannot operate drones from moving vehicles without approval
  • Cannot operate within major cities or restricted airspace without approval
  • Package deliveries are allowed, but the total weight of the aircraft with payload must be under 55 lbs.

Part 107 still doesn’t allow for fully autonomous flight, a pilot must still be at the controls even when flying a preprogrammed mission, so these new rules won’t enable companies like Amazon to realize the potential of scaled drone delivery. However, Part 107 represents incredible progress after years of frustrating restrictions.

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Enterprise use cases aren’t quite possible yet, but the SMB market and entrepreneurs will start to create use cases for many different niches over the course of the next year or two.

Drone Consumerization Paves the Way for SMB Applications

We’re entering the HTML 1.0 phase of commercial drone usage. What was once relegated to dedicated hobbyist and engineers who could build custom drones is now open to a world of SMB users without technical backgrounds.

Instead of spending thousands of dollars on a custom aircraft, DJI ltd. has followed Apple’s Macintosh playbook, stripping away any unnecessary technical details and delivering drones for the average user for as little as $800.

SMBs and entrepreneurs will come up with millions of potential drone use cases, but the following are two areas that show great potential:

  • Agricultural: Satellite photos don’t update fast enough for farmers to react quickly to the ever present environmental and pest threat to their crops. And even a few days of flooding could ruin a large percentage of yield for an entire year. Part 107 enables farmers to fly drones over their lands at any time to proactively monitor potential crop issues rather than than reacting to week old satellite photos. Also, rather than paying a pesticide vendor to spray the entire land, farmers could pinpoint problem areas with infrared cameras for more targeted and effective treatment.
  • Construction: At times, construction workers only have a 10-year-old site map from the Army Corps of Engineers to plan a commercial project. Instead of relying on outdated mapping and expensive survey teams, construction teams can use drones to work with real-time visibility.

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Software Integration Is the Next Frontier of Drone Innovation

Large enterprises may not be able to carry out their dream use cases in the wake of Part 107, but companies like Intel, HP and Cisco can act as vendors for the emerging market. With increased processing power and imaging capabilities, potential drone use cases are seemingly limitless. However, one area that is lacking at the moment is software integration.

The newest drones come built with SDKs and APIs for greater ease of use. Rather than rewriting custom software for every customer use case, you can point at an API and pull the information you’re looking for. However, some use cases will require greater integration with emerging technologies such as augmented reality and Big Data analysis.

When mapping software integrates with distributed airborne sensors, companies can get more out of their commercial drone applications. One company making waves in terms of drone software integration is Pix4D, a mapping company that can take 2D drone images and stitch them together to create a 3D map.

When combined with real time data gathering capabilities, up to date 3D mapping from Pix4D can enhance drone use cases for farmers, construction workers, real estate agents and more.

Part 107 is a major step forward for commercial drone usage—but it is only the beginning of what will become a massive industry. Much like when web development became consumerized, the business challenge of commercial drone usage will become differentiating yourself from the competition.

Differentiation in the commercial drone industry will come down to design thinking and the effective implementation of agile product development. If you want to learn more about how you can start creating innovative services that incorporate commercial drone usage, download our free End-to-End Product Development Guide for more information.

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