Xponential, a meeting of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, was held in New Orleans and featured more than 600 drone-related companies representing more than 20 industries. Chambers and Amazon Prime Air Vice President Gur Kimichi gave the opening address on May 2.
Chambers said drones “are right in the heart of changing business models” and that an “inflection point” is coming in mid-2017 when the FAA is expected to fully open the skies to commercial drone operation. Drones, along with other IoT devices, will create mass digitalization and the biggest technology transition the world has ever seen, Chambers said, adding that “Digitalization will have the impact of three to five times what the Internet has today. It will change every business model.”
The latest economic impact report from AUVSI forecasts that drones will have an economic impact of $82 billion by the year 2025. While major uses will be in agriculture, utility monitoring, construction, and oil and gas, Chambers said drones will touch “every industry” from retail to manufacturing, and that it will integrate “with all architectures and ecosystems.”
Drones can be used to make deliveries, collect data, inspect and maintain equipment, conduct aerial surveys, help perform risk analysis, and even be used to deliver Wi-Fi. While the technology is available, the FAA has yet to authorize a framework for mass commercial applications. Commercial operators must obtain a Section 333 exemption, which has a myriad of requirements and can take up to six months to obtain.
AUVSI president and CEO Bryan Wynne said in a press release that “this system of case-by-case approvals isn’t a long-term solution” and that the FAA needs to quickly create rules so American companies can lead the world in drone innovation.
Chambers said that CEOs will need to lead their companies in drone innovation because “they will help [their organizations] get through the bumps that occur and there will be major setbacks over the next year or two.” The FAA has selected Intel CEO Brian Krzanich to be the first chair of the Drone Advisory Committee where private sector and government leaders can discuss the integration of drones into the National Airspace. Inverse reported that Intel’s RealSense accident-avoidant camera technology is a major contribution to the industry.
Many companies are investing in drone technologies. As reported by Forbes.com, Chambers invested in and took a board seat on a drone startup called Airware in March. Amazon, GoPro, Lockheed Martin and Google are investing heavily in their own programs.