Drones meet AV: where's the opportunity?

In the Jan/Feb edition of InAVate magazine Tim Kridel looks at the growing use of drones across many fields and asks some experts how AV professionals can take advantage of the emerging technology. In the first Q&A he speaks with Bryan Field-Elliot, PixiePath founder and CEO.

PixiePath delivers tools and services for simultaneously controlling, coordinating, and automating the work of multiple UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).

TK: One of the targets for your management platform is systems integrators. I’d like to get a couple of examples – real or hypothetical – of the kinds of packages they could offer. I’m particularly interested in examples that involve AV applications, such as video surveillance for security or video at a concert or live event. What exactly could/would be in the package they offer to customers? For instance, if it’s a concert, I suppose the package could include a flight plan, for lack of a better term, that identifies all of the areas to shoot video. That way, the operator isn’t just flying around aimlessly hoping to find something worth feeding to the video walls.

BF: A system integrator would have the ability to build an application - even a security application, and even a venue-specific security application, that basically pulls together three things:
  1. All of the UAVs which are used by the venue or security team.
  2. All of the “flight plans,” or circuits to be flown, by the fleet, at different times. We will call these “paths.”
  3. All of the video captured by these UAVs, including a near-real-time stream of video.

The system integrator could use these capabilities to put, for example, all of the video feeds onto one web page, and then provide access to this web page to a limited set of staff. If there are other kinds of security-related triggers at the venue — such as fire alarms, or patrolling security guards doing things — these events could theoretically be pulled into the solution provided by the SI, into one cohesive whole where the UAV patrolling is just one piece of an overall security fabric, specific to the customer.

This is the perfect scenario to describe how we intend to bring system integrators into the picture. They bring their deeper knowledge and ties to specific industries or vertical clients, and PixiePath lets them add UAVs to an already comprehensive solution. Or, UAVs can be the center of a brand new solution. It’s their choice.

TK: How does your platform work? For example, what processes does it automate?

BF: At core, the platform automates collection of UAV telemetry (precise location, angle, remaining battery life, etc), and UAV sensor data such as (most importantly) a video feed from the camera. It collects all of these inputs into the cloud platform. Then, it provides tools to write simple scripts to process this data, and/or process input from other outside systems through an external API (an example of an outside system from the previous example, would be a smoke alarm going off, which should then trigger some UAV to go inspect the area). Finally, it provides APIs to send control commands back down to the UAVs, such has having them re-position, or land.

TK: What kinds of skills would an integrator need to use your platform?

BF: The principal language by which the “simple scripts” referenced above are written, is the Javascript programming language. It’s the most widely known language on the Web, and typical SIs should have a straightforward time learning, or finding someone who knows, Javascript. They can then code specific “triggers” and “services” in Javascript, which are then stored on the PixiePath cloud and automatically executed at the right times.

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