Reese Mozer, CEO of American Robotics, calls 2022 a "game changer" in automated drone services

Reese Mozer, CEO of American Robotics, calls 2022 a “game changer” in automated drone services

Reese Mozer, CEO of American Robotics, has no problems with drone deliveries, but he thinks all the hustle and bustle surrounding airlifting burgers and burritos is stifling news of broader UAV activities that are fundamentally changing the way people go. which companies operate. He says DroneDJ on this transformative innovation and how American Robotics’ (AR) leading role in fully automating critical drone services for industry is set to take off.

According to McKinsey, 660,000 commercial drone deliveries have been made in the past three years, including nearly 500,000 in 2021 alone, with those numbers set to rise to 1.5 million this year. While all is well, Mozer notes that a lot of business in that global estimate is taking place outside of North America, particularly through multiple medical supply flights that UAV logistics companies like Zipline and Swoop Aero operate daily in African nations. Commercial drone deliveries, he claims, remain limited in scope.

However, adds Mozer, that action manages to generate enough excitement from the media and the public to divert attention from the more complex, vital, and overall financially valuable sensing and inspection services that drone automation provides. to heavy industry, energy, rail and infrastructure operators. And it is precisely the activity of the UAV sector that he predicts will begin to take off and turn heads this year.

Software-based wireless broadband company Ondas Holdings agrees, which is why it acquired AR last year in a deal worth $ 70.6 million. Just this week, Ardenna, an artificial intelligence (AI) railway analysis software company, added to the growing team. The goal is clear: to use AR’s AI-powered UAV-in-a-box Scout platform and analytics software to provide a full range, sensing and inspection system for industrial customers with full automation of drones.

AR also does so using the only exemption granted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to date for regular drone flights over the line of sight without a human ground controller or visual observer.

Mozer tells DroneDJ because all of this is a bigger deal than getting coffee and cake from heaven.


Reese Mozer: Drone deliveries are getting too much attention and have less potential than marketing would have you believe. I can understand the public appeal of getting a burrito delivered to you with a drone, but when you actually dig deeper into what it takes to perform that type of operation over others, you start to see that data collection drones have a place. larger in the short, if not long term.

The commercial drone segment can be divided into several high-level groups: drone delivery and data collection. We play in the latter of these two and the number of markets and use cases in it is quite large.

This category of drones is all about digitizing the physical world for all kinds of industrial applications: agriculture, mining, oil and gas, rail, solar, nuclear power plants – pretty much any industrial activity with some sort of physical resource presence. This is the ability to inspect and monitor these assets at a very high resolution and a fairly high frequency to be able to detect methane emissions or railway defects that could cause the train to derail. So the value is probably much higher and I think we will see a much faster proliferation of autonomous drones in the inspection category than those in the delivery category.

If we can expect a greater boom in non-delivery services, what aspect will be more valuable to industrial customers: the aerial capabilities of drone operation or the automation of drones?

Mozer: Automation is at the heart of everything we do and it’s really at the heart of our value proposition. When looking at all business use cases for inspection, it’s estimated that 90% or more of them require full automation to make sense.

Imaging an asset once or twice a year has little or no value because you are trying to detect problems without knowing when they will occur. It involves inspecting how far the railroad tracks are, if there are any broken ties, missing nails, anything that could affect the safety of the railroad. In the gas it looks for leaks, methane emissions, pipe corrosion. In solar parks it is on the lookout for broken cells, which often come in the form of hot spots.

To do this you need to cover a lot of area, very frequently and with a resolution high enough for the AI ​​to make sense of it. This basically means you have to run these drones on a consistent basis every single day. If you do it with human work, if you scale it down to every resource, it quickly makes no sense.

There are over 900,000 wells in America, over 500,000 miles of pipelines, 140,000 miles of track – eventually every single inch of these resources will have to be inspected, every day. And doing it while you have a pilot on the ground with a remote control, watching the drone constantly makes no sense. So automation is the linchpin that unlocks scalability in most use cases.

How close are 100% automated drone services, 24/7, to going big?

I already think it is ready from the point of view of the needs and the customer. But that wasn’t possible until our system matured, both in terms of technology and regulatory approval. For the past 10 years all of this space has been stuck in this trial period where all companies can do is invest in a handful of drones and start learning how these things could help them, waiting for automation to mature and that that technology is approved by the FAA.

This is the position we are in now, so I think we are finally at that tipping point. The next five to ten years will look very different from the user’s perspective than the last five or ten. We’re still very much on the ground floor, but at a tipping point, and 2022 will mark that in the history books of the commercial drone industry. This year you will start hearing more about the actual standalone deals with industrial customers and next year it will start to grow exponentially.

Why is American Robotics still the only company with an FAA waiver for automated BVLOS flight?

This technology is really difficult and the FAA is really difficult, so they are both on top of each other. I also think there is an underestimation of how difficult it is to actually create a system that lives safely and reliably in the field, alone, and runs 10 times a day, every day. This is an incredibly challenging problem for all sorts of hardware and software reasons that only an incredibly small number of companies around the world can hope to overcome.

The other aspect of the answer is that there are a number of proprietary technologies that we have developed, some of which are not yet public, which have directly enabled us to obtain this exemption. And we needed to get approval not only for flying beyond line of sight, but also for having no visual observers on the ground, ever, during, after or before the FAA default 100-year rule of human control before flight. So this is another aspect of the whole drone automation process that we had to go through.

What has changed the most since your acquisition by Ondas: the use of their private communications networks rather than legacy providers?

This is definitely one aspect and the value of it will increase over time as our systems expand in greater numbers into larger areas that require that kind of long range communications on licensed spectrum. Another aspect is that we are a public company, with access to far more resources than before, and as a result our team has grown by 500% in the last year. This allows us to prepare the company to start supplying these systems on a large scale.

Furthermore, one of the reasons we chose each other was a shared theme of industrial data – data collection, analysis and transfer – and how we can work together to improve our solutions even more for all of our customers. , many of which overlap. Ondas works in the railway space, which is what interests us. They have interests in oil and gas, which is an area we work in. We share similar activities that aim for the same goal: a new era of industrial data solutions.


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