Drones Over San Diego

On June 20th, the MITEF San Diego Chapter hosted Drones Over San Diego, a panel discussion with local UAS innovators.  Led by moderator Commander David Place Ret. US Navy, executives from the rapidly growing industry around unmanned aerial vehicles (also called UAVs or drones) came together to discuss the opportunities and challenges in this hot new market.

Panelists included:

After Commander Place provided an overview of the 5 categories of UAVs for the Drones Over San Diego discussion, he highlighted several types of applications where drones are being used, including inspection, disaster relief, agriculture, and defense.

The first question for the panel was, what do you see as the current challenges?

Amir sees interoperability with technology and assets, and data collection and modeling, particularly in the space he’s focused on, firefighting.

Dave sees airspace regulation and wireless spectrum regulation.  Technology is outpacing the regulatory environment. Things will need to be adapted and changed. The FAA and FCC are working hard to figure this out, but there is a ways to go.

Chris said that regulations are a challenge as well as the economics for small start ups. Innovation is coming from start ups but then how do they scale and get the attention of large organization? Chris asked, with the drone proliferation, how is that being mitigated or protected against? You have 32,000 commercial airliners but 4.5 Million small drones purchased. The numbers are staggering and growing every day.

Chad said that what most people don’t think about, is what is the regulation on the data being collected? This will be a big concern from a privacy perspective.

The ongoing conversation touched on several of the concerns that all of the growing companies on the panel who are in an emerging market are faced with.

When scaling a business, how do you balance HW and SW development, and how do you appease your investors who want more emphasis on recurring revenue driven by software and less on the hardware? This was seen as a common challenge within the drone industry as well as related emerging areas like IoT and medical devices.

The panel also discussed how to find investors.  Suggestions from Amir and the others included getting introductions, leveraging partners, or looking for new avenues other than VCs such as grants from universities, the government, or big corporations.  They advised that start ups should be specific in search outing those interested in specific use cases.

The panel was asked, do you compete with one another?  The panel agreed it was more friendly than adversarial, calling it co-opetition.  For example, with San Diego being one of the few Drone Pilot test cities, companies need to work together to gain visibility, to change the legislation, go get visibility to the mutual cause. In May, San Diego was named one of 10 Cities selected for a national drone program.

U.S. Department of Transportation selected San Diego to participate in its “Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program,” or a three-year autonomous drone testing program that provides the city and its partners with expedited approvals and waivers for projects such as food delivery or medical specimen transport.

If you’d like to view the entire discussion, a recording of the Drones Over San Diego discussion can be found here.

About the MIT Enterprise Forum Global:

Founded in 1978 as part of the MIT Alumni Association, the MIT Enterprise Forum produces 400+ events, activities, and workshops annually to inform, connect, coach and inspire technology entrepreneurs, business leaders and enthusiasts. More information about our global reach can be found at www.mitef.org. The San Diego calendar of events can be found at  http://mitefsd.org/