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UAV Visionaries: Darshan Divakaran

Darshan Divakaran in an unmanned aviation expert with expertise in unmanned flight operations, flight safety, remote sensing, geospatial analysis and project management. He is the subject matter expert for the North Carolina Governor’s office, legislature and public safety agencies. In this role, he co-leads efforts to work with other state agencies, local government, industry, universities, and community colleges to integrate a statewide UAS program in North Carolina. A key focus of his efforts has been to provide state agencies and local governments the appropriate tools to create and manage UAS programs to support their specific operational needs. He is currently appointed to many national organizations and committees like AUVSI, ASTM, ANSI, NFPA, etc. that create UAS standards for commercial and public safety agencies. We asked Darshan some questions about the state of the commercial drone industry and here is what he had to say:

InterDrone: How did you get into the commercial drone space?

Darshan: I was inspired by my father who was a flight engineer and airline executive, but it was my mother’s motivation that led me to choose aviation as a career. I completed my Bachelor’s in Professional Aeronautics from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and also got my FAA Commercial Pilot with Multi Engine License. Later I decided to pursue graduate studies and got my Masters in Geospatial Information Science & Technology from North Carolina State University. This was when I was first introduced to drones and remote sensing. In my role I used to support drone testing operations, including aircraft, ground station and sensor systems; and the researched the role of drones with remote sensing, photogrammetry and geospatial analytics for commercial and state government applications. I now work as the UAS Program Engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. In my present role I am an embedded contractor working with NCDOT and other state agencies to integrate a statewide UAS program in North Carolina.

What are your thoughts on its development so far? (Whether it be technologically, legally, or use cases.)

Drone technology has really advanced in the last few years. From being a tech toy to a billion-dollar industry, we have seen drone technology maturing. Drones have increased work efficiency and productivity. We have also seen the major changes in drone regulations over the past few years and seen how regulators are working to stay ahead of this technology. It’s safe to say that drones are the number one disruptive technology right now and will only become more powerful as time goes on.

What do you envision the commercial drone space to look like a year from now? 5?

The commercial drone space is going to see a positive change. We are going to see operations over persons and flights beyond line of sight possible with the latest UAS Integration Pilot Program. Rapid improvements in battery technology will allow commercial drones to fly for more than an hour without recharging, enabling many new uses. Artificial Intelligence will help fly drones autonomously. With greater autonomous control, companies will be able to pursue uses that are now elusive, such as surveillance, package delivery, etc. Detect-and-avoid technology and early Unmanned Traffic Management system will help ensure drone safety.

If you had one “wish list” item to have in/happen to the industry today, what would it be?

I feel it’s important for commercial drone industry to take flight operations training standards seriously. Having just a Part 107/CoA is not going to ensure safe drone operations. The industry will need to add additional requirements while hiring and training operators. Training standards are being overlooked because of cost concerns or not enough information about it. There are many organizations like ANSI, AUVSI and ASTM helping write and compile standards for commercial operations.

You’ll be speaking at InterDrone this year. What is your topic? And aside from teaching all the attendees, what else are you most looking forward to at the show?

At InterDrone I will be speaking on the Drones in Infrastructure Inspection: An End-User’s Perspective panel and will also be teaching Drones in Infrastructure Inspections: Best Practices, Lessons Learned and Everything You Want to Know for Safe Flight Operations class. This is my second year attending InterDrone and I am looking forward to the Enterprise Tracks. There are some great classes and training sessions I am interested in attending.