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Aug 9, 2018 | Public Safety

UAV Visionaries: Michael Chasen

Michael Chasen is the CEO of PrecisionHawk, a leading provider of drone technology for the enterprise. Prior to PrecisionHawk, he was the co-founder and CEO of Blackboard (NASDAQ: BBBB), a leader in the global eLearning space. He grew Blackboard to serve over 30,000 institutions worldwide, had 3,000 employees and 20 offices around the world. Michael took Blackboard public in 2004 and ran it as a public company for 7 years before selling to Providence Equity Partners for $1.7B. Michael then started SocialRadar, a company specializing in improving location accuracy on SmartPhones, which he sold to Verizon in 2016. We asked Michael 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?

MC: I came across PrecisionHawk literally 8 weeks before they called me about this opportunity while I was looking into improving the mapping services of my startup, SocialRadar.

At SocialRadar, we were trying to figure out how to improve the blue dot on your mobile phone, which is to say we were trying to improve location accuracy. That blue dot was wrong half the time because the system was often making a guess about where someone was actually located, which was partly based on the maps the system used. As we were examining ways to make those maps more accurate, we thought about getting drones to fly over areas where we didn”T have coverage and use LiDAR to get the exact locations of buildings. There weren”T many companies that could even do something like that, but PrecisionHawk was one of them.

Not even 8 weeks later I got an email saying that PrecisionHawk was doing an executive search, and that got an immediate reaction from me because I knew how great their solution was. PrecisionHawk was one of the few companies that had the experience, expertise and technology to actually do what we had envisioned for that project. When they got in touch, I already knew what kind of opportunities were going to be out there around gathering better and more accurate data using drones, and immediately saw how we could take that to the next level.

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

MC: While enterprise adoption of drone technology is still in its nascence, the industry has experienced some very impressive milestones’some of which PrecisionHawk has had the unique opportunity to be a part of”That have helped pave the way for a future the entire industry is very optimistic for.

Since 2015 we’ve seen more interest, adoption and acceptance of commercial drones. The FAA sought to better understand and make possible beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight, and PrecisionHawk was privileged to be one of its three research partners in the Pathfinder Program. We just delivered our findings in the final report this year, which outlines a comprehensive safety case and standards to fly drones BVLOS and has yielded critical information to the FAA regarding drone operations.

The Trump administration has also encouraged innovation in the industry as well, which has helped to elevate the value and importance of commercial drones. The 2017 White House Technology Summit addressed how drones could be an enabler to U.S. economic growth, and earlier this year, the White House recognized the significant business potential that drones bring with the announcement of the UAS IPP. These 10 pilot programs are pivotal to the integration of commercial drones and PrecisionHawk is very proud to be a part of North Carolina’s program.

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

MC: As the industry is increasingly moving towards automated systems, we believe visual learning tools will work in coordination with AI applications to use drone collected geospatial data to provide recommends like preventative maintenance and prediction of equipment failure. And with access to BVLOS (beyond-visual line of sight) flight to collect more data economically, the toolset becomes better and better and will yield benefits that change the economics of intelligence collection.

Even 10 years is an incredibly long time in this industry. There will be advancements and new technology that we can”T even imagine yet and they will provide huge jumps in performance for these systems. That said, I think that we will see much wider adoption of package delivery using drones. The baseline will be operations in remote areas or where speed and flexibility are critical, such as medical deliveries, but I think we”Ll see much more than that. Will we get to the full realization of commonplace delivery of goods in urban centers and elsewhere?

The technology is there to make it happen, but innovation and smart regulation will be key drivers. It’s a very thrilling prospect to know that package or life-saving medical equipment delivery is right within reach.

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

MC: Faster advances in smart regulation. There is great anticipation for regulatory advances that will make it easier for companies to deploy drone technology to solve real business problems that will make our world more prosperous and sustainable. The industry is committed to this and with other federal bodies, we”Ll work together to make this a reality.

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?

MC: Last year at InterDrone I had the opportunity to talk about our bet that drones are the next iPhone, and every industry they touch will be revolutionized. Of course, the real value for smartphones came when people started envisioning different applications for different industries, and that is what we are seeing with drones today.

Now, we’re working together to go further. Throughout the past year, PrecisionHawk has demonstrated, under the Pathfinder Program, that beyond line of sight operations can be achieved safely and effectively today. Which is extremely valuable as there are a number of explosive opportunities for drones around the world that require this ability.

But will BVLOS drive the significant economic value that we’re predicting? We”Ll lay out valuable learnings directly from companies around the United States, in industries like utilities, oil and gas, and insurance, who are actively integrating or planning to integrate BVLOS operations, share progress on bringing BVLOS technology to market and plan for some exciting announcements that we believe will greatly support the growth of this industry.

This conference is a valuable platform for some of the industry’s leading technology, business and policy minds. I look forward to hearing from these individuals, learning, and using InterDrone as a forum to collaborate on how we continue to build on an industry that is truly revolutionary.

Michael will be keynoting at InterDrone 2018 along with other PrecisionHawk team members who will be sitting on industry panels.