[Avionics Today 08-27-2014] Ryan Hartman's appointment as the chief executive for Insitu comes at a time when the commercial Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) market is rapidly growing with new lucrative opportunities. Insitu recently obtained a restricted type certification to start flying commercial surveillance operations with its Scan Eagle in Alaska, while also performing sense and avoid testing and wildfire monitoring demonstrations in Australia.
Insitu CEO Ryan Hartman. Photo: Insitu
Hartman, a U.S. Air Force and Navy veteran, said his approach to introducing the Scan Eagle to new areas of the growing commercial UAS industry will be similar to the approach Insitu took toward the defense market, where their unmanned systems have logged more than 800,000 flight hours.
"Our goal at Insitu first and foremost is to prepare for that commercial market. Just as we entered into the military market in 2004, we did so because we were prepared for it," Hartman said during an interview with Avionics Magazine. "When the opportunity presented itself we were ready and that’s what kept us ahead of the competition. That same approach is how we will address the commercial market where we’re investing internally in the technologies and the systems that are necessary for us to be ready and prepared for the commercial opportunities as they present themselves."
One of those opportunities will be in the agricultural market. While Amazon made headlines last year when the company announced it will pursue the use of UAS to deliver packages—the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) is estimating that 80 percent of the demand for the commercial UAS market will eventually be for agricultural use.
Farmers can use unmanned aircraft to optimize their use of pesticides, fertilizer and other applications, based on the need at a specific point in a field, a process known as precision agriculture. This can help farmers save money by not overusing their resources. Earlier this month, Insitu displayed its Scan Eagle at Dakotafest, a conference in Illinois that discussed the potential use of UAS for precision agriculture.
"Agriculture presents a very interesting market and we continue to explore that market. There are several things that have to be addressed to be ready for the agriculture market," said Hartman. "One is the technology. We have and will continue to invest in technologies that will enable value added information and present it to farmers and decision makers much like we do in other markets. The other barrier that has to be addressed is the business model itself."
Along with building the business case, Hartman said Insitu will ensure that its future commercially operated Scan Eagles are equipped with avionics that allow safe operation in commercial airspace, integrated with manned aircraft traffic. And what’s the key to safe operation? Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) and sense and avoid technology.
"Having ADS-B on unmanned systems will be a key enabler for the [commercial] integration of unmanned systems. But then there is the ability to operate in and amongst other aircraft that don’t have ADS-B and that’s where either a sense and avoid or a see and avoid capability will become necessary," said Hartman.
Another potential commercial opportunity in the U.S. and other regions of the world will come from wildfire monitoring, a commercial UAS concept
that Insitu recently proved to be extremely helpful in monitoring wildfires in Australia. In January, the Scan Eagle was equipped with General Dynamics Mediaware’s video exploitation system, D-VEX to stream full-motion video and geo-location information in near real-time. The video and location information of moving wildfires in Wollemi National Park was broadcasted in near real time with downlink assistance from the Amazon cloud to remotely located fire fighters to keep them alert of the movement of the fire. Operators flew the Scan Eagle at night, and were able to monitor and report on the movement one the fire, which is difficult to perform at low altitude with manned aircraft due to the high risk factors involved.
“We’re getting very close to being able to use unmanned systems in the wildfire market within the U.S., based on two things. One is our success in Australia and the work we’ve been doing in Australia, plus the work we’ve been doing with the FAA here in the U.S.,” said Hartman. “We continue to work with the FAA and state agencies, agencies like the Department of Natural Resources to work through the safe use of unmanned systems for that specific market.”
Over the next decade, AUVSI is predicting the commercial UAS market will be worth more than $86 billion, and Hartman and Insitu will be ready to capitalize on it.
"The future is bright," said Hartman. "We very much look forward to that next chapter for Insitu as things settle down in the military market and pick up in the commercial market, we’re well positioned for some continued growth and this area."