Rise of the drones is good news for AV

There's no shortage of potential pro AV applications of drones. Tim Kridel investigates what integrators need to expand into drone-based AV – and whether they even have a shot at this emerging market.

It’s hard to avoid drones these days, especially if you’re piloting a commercial plane. At Heathrow airport, for example, a drone came close enough to an Airbus A320 that the UK Airprox Board gave the incident its highest risk rating.

Those near misses bear watching by AV pros. The more concerns that regulators and the public have about drone safety, the more difficult it becomes to use them for pro AV applications such as video at live events or security surveillance. That’s the case in countries such as the US, where the commercial drone market is effectively grounded while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) figures out how to regulate them.

“Until the FAA finalizes the regulations for the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), exemptions will only be granted on a case-by-case basis,” says Melanie Hinton, senior communications manager at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. “These rules will vary by country.

“Some countries, such as the UK and Canada, permit a wider range of applications of UAS. In Japan, farmers who use UAS don’t own them, but pay contractors to spray their fields using the technology. These different models for use will be developed as the commercial market grows.”

Why should AV pros care about how Japanese farmers are using drones or that Amazon wants to use them to deliver packages? They all help create a global cost structure and big product selection, and they condition other businesses to look for opportunities to use them – including for AV applications.

So far, drone-based AV is a nascent market.

“I don’t know of any service providers in the AV industry that are using our systems,” says Andrea Sangster, who managed a projector line at Christie before becoming senior marketing manager at Aeryon Labs, a drone vendor.

Stampede Presentation Products aims to change that. The North American pro AV distributor has spent the past year promoting the drone opportunity. In autumn, it toured several US cities with a day-long crash course into why and how AV pros should consider adding drones to their portfolios.

"Drones, or 'cameras in the sky' as we like to refer to them, represent nothing less than a $12 billion (€10 billion) commercial sales opportunity," Kevin Kelly, Stampede president and COO, said as the tour kicked off. “From security to education to real estate to agriculture, drones represent the most complete and cost effective way for enterprises of all type to capture and deploy critically important content that then needs to be viewed, edited, distributed, and stored. This reality is what is going to generate a huge increase in business for our dealers in 2015 and beyond.”

Video surveillance is one potential fit. For example, an AV firm could add drones to its portfolio for applications where it’s not practical to permanently install cameras or bring in trailer-mounted ones.

“Such an implementation provides visibility for areas that a fixed camera cannot provide, and also offers a unique perspective on a scene, such as a concert or sporting event,” says Andrea Sorri, Axis Communications business development director for government, city surveillance and critical infrastructure

That flexibility could be a plus in the eyes of some customers, thus helping the AV firm differentiate itself. It also could create another revenue stream if those customers prefer to have the AV firm own and manage the drones. That’s a lot of coulds, which is both the promise and challenge of drone AV: figuring out where the opportunities are and how to seize them.

Find out if AV professionals have a shot at this market and how they can get involved in the full article.

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