Column: Here's How the Commercial Drone Industry Can Prove Itself During the Pandemic

Dan Burton
Dan Burton is the founder and CEO of DroneBase, the largest global drone operations company, which provides businesses with aerial information to make better, real-time decisions about their most critical assets.
Column: Here's How the Commercial Drone Industry Can Prove Itself During the Pandemic

In the midst of the current global health crisis, the commercial drone industry is helping businesses keep essential projects on track. Drones are a significant player across a full spectrum of industries, allowing companies in insurance, construction, infrastructure, energy and others to maintain critical operations by safe, contactless solutions. In fact, Barclays estimates the use of drones will result in cost savings of $100 billion across industries.


With the foundation of the industry now maturing and in the midst of a global pandemic, I believe this is a make or break moment for drones to prove their versatility through their utility, safety, and value. Whether through integral data or taking on risky inspections, this is the moment that the commercial drone industry will fulfill its potential.

Utility: As Use Cases Grow, the Commercial Drone Industry Grows

Dan Burton is the Founder and CEO of DroneBase, the largest global drone operations company.

At DroneBase, we have seen how drones have impacted businesses across insurance, construction, real estate, energy, and media. In times of disaster and even this global pandemic, we have been fortunate to enable insurers to get claims to those in need five to six days faster, provide contractors a better, safer way to monitor their sites, and help realtors virtualize their properties to continue to conduct sales. As a result, drones have become a key part of the day-to-day operations across these industries, and continue to do so even during COVID-19.

Our customers are continuing to incorporate drones into their processes and budgets as well as find additional use cases to leverage more technology, and industry analysts are seeing the same trends. According to Tractica, the commercial drone market is experiencing steady, sustained growth and consolidation, with global revenue expected to reach $13.7 billion by 2025.

There are endless possibilities as every industry needs to maintain its assets, whether a solar farm, wind turbines, buildings, or parking lots. This is where I see sustained growth for the drone industry since enterprises should use this time to develop new use cases to efficiently and safely gather the necessary data.

Safety: Putting Humans Out of Peril

When I was just starting DroneBase, the concept of sending a flying machine to inspect anything was unheard of. Instead, humans often put themselves at risk in order to examine construction sites, roofs, or wind turbines. Not to mention, drone pilots can conduct contactless inspections since the time required on a property is minimal and nothing is physically touched by the pilot or drone.

With two feet on the ground and a bird's eye view, over 171,000 professional drone pilots are able to prevent dangerous human inspections of industrial assets. Thanks to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations such as the Part 107 program and Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), the commercial drone industry has been able to grow and flourish.

The industry standard has been to send a human and risk their lives, which no human life is worth the chance. Drones are also providing a second safety layer during this pandemic by maintaining a safe social distance. Continuing the course of strong, helpful guidelines will push the drone industry forward and truly save lives.

A nearly empty Santa Monica, Calif. pier as seen from above during COVID-19 stay-home orders, taken by a DroneBase drone. Courtesy of DroneBase

Value: Enabling Teams to Make Decisions Through Drone Data

As with most B2B and SaaS companies, you're providing the client with a solution. They need to quickly and easily reach a decision from the service you're providing, whatever that may be. To get companies to adopt a new technology like drones, you need to be orders of magnitude faster, safer, and more affordable - especially as companies look to cut costs and survive the pandemic.

We see two critical layers of value in the drone industry: data capture and data analysis. Enterprise customers increasingly only want to deal with one drone provider who has scalable systems across data capture and data analysis. Scaling drone capture to national, or international reach, is both a software infrastructure and a network problem. If drone operations were being viewed as a commodity before COVID-19, in the current pandemic environment, the ability to safely, quickly, and reliably operate at scale has quickly become a scarce resource. After the industry's growth and hundreds of thousands of missions flown here at DroneBase, we're more confident than ever that the drone industry can be the reliable resource we promised.

Drone data analysis is the second key layer that gets the customer to a fast, accurate decision that pulls the signal from all the noise in the captured data. Drone technology is great at capturing anomalies through imagery - a perfect fit for industrial inspections of similar assets like solar panels or wind turbines. It will be important for the drone industry to prove itself to be a valuable, accurate resource now and after we return to a more normal time.

Thanks to industry efforts, drone technology has the opportunity to make a real impact in this difficult time. Drones already provide a safer way to capture aerial data, and the contact-free inspection drones can provide is more relevant than ever to keep critical infrastructure and essential services running safely during this crisis. It's time for the commercial drone industry to prove itself.

Dan Burton is the Founder and CEO of DroneBase, the largest global drone operations company, which provides businesses with aerial information to make better, real-time decisions about their most critical assets.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.

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