Verizon Grabs Skyward to Help Feed the Drones

Verizon has just acquired drone operations management company Skyward to add to its growing concentration in the IoT. Drones have enormous potential, and management will be of increasing importance in expanding deployment opportunities.

Drones have been operating at the edges of the technological horizon for several years now, but recent developments have made them more interesting and more important for business. Today’s drones come in innumerable sizes and shapes, and miniaturization of technology has meant that they are able to carry more sensors and provide more useful information about areas over which they pass. They have also been provided with new ways for interaction, such as capability to manipulate controls or pick up and release objects. This is creating innumerable opportunities, particularly in areas such as agriculture, aerial photography, mapping, surveying, and other such operations. Regulation issues are also being gradually adjusted to accommodate new concepts of drone usage.

As the importance of drones has continues to grow, concerns have been raised regarding air safety and interference with other devices. Regulations have limited operations to line-of-sight and there is a range of rules which need to be followed. Additionally, operation of drones can be complex, particularly if individuals with piloting experience are not available or the mission demands extensive coordination. As drones continue to develop, we are beginning to see hive operations involving innumerable drones, spectacularly illustrated recently in Intel’s Super Bowl lighting display; we are also beginning to see various levels of autonomy and precise coordination issues.

Within this mix, huge opportunities exist, and this is the objective of Verizon Skyward acquisition. Verizon itself has been developing an LTE based network to allow operation of unmanned airborne vehicles (UAVs) in operations beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS). As line-of-sight restrictions are lifted, remote operation of drones will become significantly more common, and drone fleets will need to be managed.

Verizon began work on its in-flight LTE operations in 2014 and expanded operations in 2016 by engaging American Aerospace (AATI) to test connectivity between aerial platforms and Verizon’s 4G LTE network. Verizon’s airborne LTE operations (ALO) initiative has now undergone technical trials across the country in a combination of unmanned and manned aircraft using the company’s 4G LTE network.

Entering this area at an early stage permits Verizon to build the network connections and experience that it will require to offer services for complex drone operations involving many devices. But, operating and managing such networks demands that devices remain within FAA parameters, meet regulations, and function in accordance with agreements such as insurance that may be related to specific task environments. Skyward is an operations management solution for commercial drone businesses. It is a cloud-based platform that integrates a drone airspace map with flight planning tools, fleet and equipment management, and a digital system of record. This makes it possible to coordinate a complex drone operation with confidence, leading to greater accessibility to the technology and the possibility of expanding the opportunity horizon for drone usage.

Verizon is taking a leadership role in this area and is betting on the further development of drones and IOT devices as an additional service opportunity for the company. Already, it has over $1 billion of revenue from the IOT space. Development of drones is a natural outgrowth of this concentration.

According to Verizon’s news release, Mike Lanman, senior vice president Enterprise Products and IOT said:

“Last quarter we announced our strategy to drive innovation and widespread adoption for in-flight wireless connectivity through our Airborne LTE Operations (ALO) initiative, a new service to simplify certification and connectivity of wireless drones. This acquisition is a natural progression of our core focus on operating in innovative, high-growth markets, leveraging our network, scale, fleet management, device management, data analytics and security enablement capabilities and services to simplify the drone industry and help support the adoption of IoT.”

Undoubtedly AI will play a part in creating more autonomous drones systems; but these operations, given their complexity, must remain within the bounds of regulation and human legal constraints.

In a greater sense operation of a centralized solution that provides management of a regulatory environment is very similar to what is occurring within the GRC space. As new technology evolves and needs to be fitted into human society and legal and economic boundaries, regulatory management platforms need to be put into place to ensure that behavior, no matter how autonomous or operator-controlled, remains within parameters that ensure harmonious operation of all components of our increasingly complex technological world.

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