Q&A with Robert Garbett, Chief Executive Officer, Drone Major Group

Q&A with Robert Garbett, Chief Executive Officer, Drone Major Group

Drone Major is an official partner of the inaugural Vertical Flight Expo 2019 this November. Robert Garbett, Chief Executive Officer – who will be giving two presentations at the show – reveals the biggest challenges facing the future of UAS and why shows like Vertical Flight Expo are so important for the industry.

Can you tell us about Drone Major, its history and the services and capabilities it provides?

Drone Major Group (DMG) is a global organisation offering strategic, technical and through-life management advice on the application of drone and counter-drone technology across all environments: (surface, underwater, air and space).

Uniquely, we are also the largest industry cluster of drone and counter-drone suppliers so we are uniquely positioned to be the centre of excellence for all industry stakeholders, connecting buyers, investors, operators, manufacturers, service providers, standards bodies, regulators and governments.

What are the challenges chasing UA’s?

The main challenge facing the small UAS industry is a resistance to adoption while robust standards and regulations are being developed. We don’t have a suite of robust national or international standards to underpin operations or manufacturing which makes it very difficult to commercialise the industry, meaning there is a lag in terms of adoption. So, whilst small UAS are being used in certain applications, the time it can take for clearance is an issue if you’re developing a new concept or technology or if you are looking to commercialise at a reasonable cost. We are currently working on foundation standards at the international and national level which are designed to support the development of rubust regulations. In essence, such standards could enable regulators to say, “if you design your UAS in accordance with the standard it will be deemed to be airworthy and, if you operate in accordance with the standard, you will be deemed a safe operator.” Once achieved, this will give comfort to the regulators as well as the public whose acceptance is key to the success of commercialisation. Until all of these things are aligned, it will be very hard for regulators to reduce the current restrictions and allow commercialisation to progress more rapidly.

As a whole, the industry today is generally funded by investors, rather than organisations choosing to invest in technologies or developing concepts themselves. This means the industry is naturally under greater restrictions because private investors require a clear return on their investment and, in such a nascent industry as this with all of the issues previously discussed, such things can take too long for traditional investors to take the risk. Interestingly, although the road to extensive commercialisation is long, this industry is so exciting, it is forging new investors with an eye on the longer game. Long may this continue.

What are the opportunities for UAs to assist in traditional helicopter operations? Do you have any examples you can provide?

If we can work together as an industry to help the government understand what they need to do and deliver, then there are huge opportunities for this industry. If we get it right, I believe commercialisation is possible within seven years. We are already using drones commercially in areas such as forestry, and even delivering items from hospital to hospital on fixed routes. So, there are already opportunities for commercialisation, but it’s on a very small, piecemeal scale.

There are so many opportunities out there for technology developers and organisations who want to enhance and increase their efficiency to save money, save lives, and to increase the safety of operations. A good example of this would be the use of UAS in support of helicopter operations where a piloted system is not required or too expensive. Helicopter operators have been presented with an opportunity to expand their operational capabilities and widen their offering to clients through the adoption of vertical take off and landing (VTOL) systems for reconnaissance or shore to ship delivery tasks while retaining their specialist piloted systems for tasks requiring passenger transfer or specialist operations out of the scope of the capabilities of a UAS.

This opportunity is not unique to helicopter operations and aviation operators world wide are investigating the expansion of their capabilities through the integration of cargo carrying and other UAS.

What do you think is the most exciting upcoming technology or trend in vertical flight technologies?

Hybridisation is by far the most exiting development in my mind. Not in power – like battery or petrol – but the hybridisation of systems which can cross environmental barriers. For example, a vehicle that can operate in the air, land on the surface of the water, sink and operate underwater is a hybrid or UXS. For us, this is one of the most exciting technological developments going forward, because if you can operate across different environments then you open up the opportunities to utilise the full capabilities of the technology while solving more problems with a single system. Drone Major has a number of projects currently in motion involving systems that are utilising this hybrid approach.

I’m also very excited about the future development of power for these systems. At the moment the industry is heavily reliant on batteries. While hydrogen cells use is developing rapidly, there are still safety concerns and it will take some time to work these through and get regulators to allow extensive use of hydrogen in such systems. We are already seeing other biological battery systems coming on line as well as micropulse jet engines, and an array of other futuristic ideas are being developed that will enable us to utilise autonomous technologies in a far more effective way in the future.

What attracted you to partner with Vertical Flight Expo this year? What does the partnership mean for this year’s event?

It’s really interesting to see the show transitions to Vertical Flight Expo in order to meet the needs of both helicopter operators and the rest of the vertical flight industry. I’ve always wanted to get involved with an organisation that is open to working with us to develop the next generation of drone event and I’m very excited to be working with the organisers because it demonstrates their commitment to understand the future of this industry.

In the same way that cars have evolved from a feared toy for the elite to an efficient method of transporting goods and now being a general item most households will own, drone technology – of the larger kind, such as a passenger or cargo-carrying vehicle – has the potential to significantly impact humanity. By being a part of this year’s Vertical Flight Expo, we are heavily invested in assisting the adoption of new technologies. I’m looking forward to seeing the show grow year-on-year as more companies get on board. Vertical Flight Expo 2019 will be one of the first events that brings the industry together to focus on the future of vertical flight.

Why are events like Vertical Flight so important for the industry?

Any trade exhibition should add value to its industry, and I’ve personally found that events for drones have tailed off significantly or have content and exhibitors that are no longer appealing to the industry. What makes Vertical Flight Expo 2019 so exciting is that we will see the world’s most cutting-edge companies displaying technology, some of which won’t be commercialised for at least 5 -7 years while offering insights into how it can change people’s lives. To me, that is far more exciting than what is available in the right industry now. People come to events like Vertical Flight Expo to find out what’s going to happen in the future – its showcases tomorrow’s world.

Can you tell us about the key themes for Drone Major at this year’s show?

We’re excited to present two talks at the show this year, the first will provide attendees with a global overview of the UAS industry today and will venture into the future, while the second session will detail the lessons learnt from Gatwick Airport, one year on. It is important for us to share this global overview, bringing people up to date with the important global developments in technology, regulation and standards. We also wanted to touch upon on the key lessons learnt from the experiences of Gatwick Airport – specifically not the incident itself, but what happened after and the mistakes that are still being made across the industry today. We look forward to sharing our thoughts and strategies to help companies approach incidents like this in a far more pragmatic way.

Drone major will be presenting two sessions at this year’s Vertical Flight Expo, taking place from 5-7 November at Farnborough International, including a Global Market Overview and Gatwick One Year On: Lessons Learnt. To find out more about the conference programme at the show visit: https://www.verticalflightexpo.com/Conference/

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