Poised for the Big Bang

The UAS field continues to tap into new domains, break out of the boundaries of defense applications, and consolidate in the civilian sphere. Special article in anticipation of the 2019 UVID Conference

 

Photo: Bigstock

Every year, an in-depth qualitative-applicative (and non-academic) study is conducted regarding the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) market, its various worldwide trends and Israel's position in the process. The objective of this study is to present the big picture through the small details, and that is what makes it unique. On the one hand, the study systematically scans the internet and the ocean of open source information available to everyone. On the other hand, it exhausts such intimate processes as hundreds of personal interviews and meetings, observations, and analyses of local and global processes taking place in and around the market. The results of the study, as presented in this article, are required to pass the test of history, as well as the test of the general public – which reviews them every year, when the study is published.

In line with the trend identified in 2018, which indicated that the UAS field had entered new domains and mainly the public domain, the analysis of the findings of 2019 indicates that the UAS market had matured and broken out of its traditional boundaries. This was reflected, for example, in the meteoric acceleration of numerous fields of interest which have thus far avoided being identified with the UAS field, along with a trend of maturing processes which have thus far constituted significant hindrances to growth and assimilation.

Security, Civilian, Public, and Anything in Between

The traditional UAS field has been involved, for the past 100 years, in defense applications, with the emphasis placed on military applications. In an article published a year ago, in anticipation of the 2018 UVID Conference, the emphasis was placed on the UAS field having entered the civilian domain, and subsequently the public domain in recent years.

However, a particularistic examination vis-à-vis the various stakeholders in every domain established that they are concerned about (and sometimes even totally avoid) any connection or branding with the other domain. The defense industries often consider themselves as RPV (remotely piloted vehicle) manufacturers, and the term "Drone" causes them to condescend or patronize. Conversely, civilian drone manufacturers shy away from any connection with the defense RPV manufacturers, to the point of avoiding common events – even if those events offer a substantial business potential.

From a strategic, systemic perspective, and definitely having the best interests of the State of Israel (as well as the best interests of the companies involved) in mind, it is mandatory for these activities to cooperate, harmoniously and synergistically. The civilian sector is often the technological trailblazing locomotive in a global perspective. This sector abounds with innovation and extensive international connections that offer technological and human capabilities, along with business opportunities that do not exist in the defense sector, as this is the more intensively developing business domain in a future perspective. On the other hand, the long-established depth offered by the defense sector, the R&D budgets as well as the on-going quest for operational solutions – provide a fertile ground for intelligent cooperation.

The following example will clarify: conceptually – destroying pests in an agricultural field is similar to the closing of the loop in a targeted killing mission. The process includes preliminary and real-time intelligence collection, detection (spotting), recognition and identification of the target (or pest), direction of dedicated forces to the target, employment of suitable armament without engaging uninvolved parties (focused spraying of the affected area) and reporting the results. In this way, the defense way of thinking contributes to the development of the systemic concept for agricultural tasks. On the other hand – technological solutions implemented in agriculture, often owing to economic necessity, like the need to employ multiple platforms/swarms, or such technological developments as multispectral payloads or miniaturized optics as a solution for the need for lightweight platforms – represent the significant contribution made by the civilian sector to the defense sector.

Today, innovators and visionaries, mainly in the defense sector, eliminate hindrances, relinquish their concerns and understand the potential offered by this alliance. The major defense industries in Israel, such as IAI, Rafael, and Elbit Systems, like leading global giants (Boeing, Airbus, etc.) are attempting to establish innovation centers and embrace the small civilian industries and startups. The civilian industries, for their part, are suspicious and concerned about the embrace becoming a Bear Hug, like the need to operate under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense with regard to export. It is for us to encourage cooperation between these sectors and minimize the hindrances to the exportation of civilian applications in the UAS field.

The 2019 UVID Conference will stress the need for synergy and the encouragement of cooperative alliances between the various sectors and activities.

More Smart Solutions, Less UAS

The evolutionary process in the UAS field has shifted over the years from focusing on the vehicle to a realization that the platform is, in fact, a system of systems that incorporates communication and control elements, payloads, and so forth. This approach, however, positions the technology rather than the product, and the supplier rather than the client at center stage. The overall social change, which seeks services and awards an added value to the simplicity and quality of the end result, has reached the UAS field through the quest for smart solutions.

Photo: Bigstock

Today, the markets focus on a quest for smart solutions mainly in the following categories: defense and security, agriculture, infrastructures/utilities and energy, deliveries, and entertainment. Each one of these smart solution categories represents a complete world opposite which a solution should be developed – using technology, systems, regulation, market education, and so forth.

The 2019 UVID Conference will address "Smart Solutions by UAS."

Players, Communities, and Innovation

The attention paid to smart solutions by UAS led to a significant change in the business environment, the players and the forces operating in this market. The clearly-defined, traditional boundaries of the RPV manufacturers have been breached and new players have entered the scene. These new players include innovation and investment elements (like funds and accelerators), professional communities (e.g., Agritech) and giant corporations (like energy, transportation, agricultural, and electrical corporations) aiming for a piece of the pie, all at both the local and global levels.

The social-business trend of the present era has led to the realization that the way to promote the UAS field passes through cooperative alliances and the establishment of a multidisciplinary ecosystem with the surrounding business environment. The alliances should be based on economic viability and justification and the understanding that joint activity from different directions will lead to the implementation of smart solutions in a way that is more efficient, faster and of a higher quality. For example, the connection around the UVID Conference between the UAS community, the agriculture community, the Ministry of Agriculture, innovation and investment elements involved in agriculture, and the companies themselves is the key to the establishment of a more extensive ecosystem. This ecosystem will lead to true synergy, including the integration of technologies, expansion of markets, promotion of regulation, development of complementary capabilities, and so forth. The UAS community is currently required to visit with and host other professional and business communities so as to fully utilize its capabilities and quality.

The 2019 UVID Conference will cooperate with innovation elements, business and professional communities that promote solutions through UAS. The steering committee appointed for the Conference consists of leading stakeholders from complementary fields.

The Big Data Revolution

"An aircraft with a camera – or a camera with an aircraft?" This question has been the topic of discussion in the UAS field for many years. The discussion remains relevant even in the present era of cutting-edge autonomous capabilities, be it for regulatory derivatives or for the frequent need to cope with uncertainty variables that keep the UAS operator (and the platform) in the center. However, it may be stated with certainty that we already live in an era where UAS serve as a primary information collection sensor, and the process of utilizing the benefits of this sensor is progressing as part of the global revolution in this field. The UAS hardware (the system proper) is the means, the platform, while the objective becomes effective, application-wise, through the use of software and sophisticated data utilization tools. Many companies that currently operate in the UAS market present themselves as software specialists rather than UAS specialists.

Another discussion among professionals in this field involves the selection of terminology: UAS, RPV, or Drone. This debate reflects the various trends in the profound understanding of the field. While defense/security missions currently (and in some cases in the future, too) set the UAS operator at a central and essential position in the actual execution of the mission, the world in general is migrating toward the technological trend of removing the Man from the Loop and relying extensively on automatic/autonomous processes – often because the process in question is impossible to execute otherwise (for example, controlling a swarm of 1,500 drones during an audio-visual spectacle at the Olympic Games).

The 2019 UVID Conference will present the message of exhausting data from UAS and the connection between the UAS world and the world of Big Data, AI, and automation.

The worldwide availability of UAS has also led, as expected, to the abuse of this technology. This year we have witnessed an escalation in the security and safety risks that stem from the employment of these platforms by elements aiming to cause damage. In order to facilitate the growth of the UAS field, it is mandatory to address and strengthen the aspect of dealing with these threats.

The 2019 UVID Conference will include a comprehensive presentation of the UAS threat and the ways to deal with it.

Organizing the UAS Revolution in Israel

The UAS field, poised for a "Big Bang" breakthrough owing to the massive increase in the demand for civilian applications, is currently going through a phase where several global macro processes are coming of age and would enable that breakthrough. Primary worldwide processes include mainly the institutionalization of airspace infrastructures (zones, routes, layers – USA and Europe); regulatory infrastructures (aviation, security, safety, privacy protection, communication, and so forth); technological infrastructures (scientific standards, building blocks, online applications, and so forth); academic-education infrastructures (supporting degrees – scientific, legal, and so forth); and naturally – economic derivatives (export and import issues, investments, hothouses, etc.). These initiatives are often led, at the national level and in a centralized manner, by government organs (USA – the Drone Pilot Program under the direct guidance of the President), and sometimes by stakeholder organizations interested in promoting the field when no government guidance is provided (Israel Drones Alliance, giant corporations, etc.).

In Israel, government involvement in the UAS field is reflected mainly in the restrictions imposed on the scope and latitude of this activity (as evidenced in the State Comptroller's Report of November 2017), while the issues of profitability and latitude are not a part of the agenda of these government organs. On the other hand, Israel has been – and in many ways still is – a UAS power on a global scale, mainly in the defense field. This inconsistency calls for proper response and action aimed at keeping Israel at the forefront of this significant field.

As an example, we can point to the intensive worldwide preoccupation with the topic of flying systems over people and in urban areas. This preoccupation involves massive investments by the delivery service and aerospace companies, along with a massive technological-legislative effort aimed at defining and authorizing operations in such spaces (in the context of the Smart Urban Mobility revolution). In Israel, several companies deal with, and sometimes lead, various issues associated with operations in urban spaces, but no state organ whatsoever is currently planning for the day when the technology has come of age around the world and we can assimilate it in Israel. Consequently, it is up to us, the members of the UAS community, to lead the national vision and promote the preparedness of the State of Israel to the UAS revolution sweeping the world.

Today, we can state with satisfaction that two processes intended to promote this national vision are underway. The first process is the UVID Conference, which serves as Israel's primary stage for the promotion of the field and as the annual meeting place of the UAS community. The Conference provides a vibrant center for business meetings and for showcasing the latest innovations and developments in the field in Israel and around the world. We can state with satisfaction that for many elements, this Conference is a source for national pride, which reflects Israel's strength in the UAS field. The numbers of individuals, organizations and companies taking part in the Conference every year reflect this pride.

The other initiative is the establishment of IDA – the Israel Drones Alliance, which set a goal of promoting the UAS field in Israel at the national level, based on the understanding that only activism led by the professional stakeholders operating in the market can lead to a comprehensive national thrust in the right direction.

Opportunity Meets Reality

Every year, I preside over the UVID Conference, which reflects the products of the in-depth study I conduct on the trends of the global UAS market and the manner in which it is reflected in Israel. We live in a fascinating period of endless opportunities in the UAS field that would lead to the "Big Bang" when the technology has entered our lives. We have the responsibility to bring these opportunities together with reality, while keeping the future of the State of Israel in mind. This year, the 2019 UVID Conference will be conducted in line with the motto "More Civilian, More International, More Commercial," focusing on the worldwide future of this field and on Israel's position in this revolution

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The 2019 UVID Conference, under the direction of Alon Unger, conference founder and chairman, will take place on November 7, 2019.