freeskies

The Future of Drones: 5 Bold Predictions for 2017

Note: This is a repost of the same article on LinkedIn.

The 2017 Consumer Electronics Showcase has just concluded in Las Vegas, Nevada and drones are front and center in the national discussion. Drones, UAVs and other unmanned systems have taken off as a unique tool for everyday life, regardless of whether flight is controlled by onboard computers or remotely from the ground. Unmanned systems have revolutionized the way we capture, monitor and assist our world. They provide aerial coverage for sports, travel and real estate; enhance search and rescue, law enforcement and disaster relief; and so much more.

DJI, Yuneec, and Qualcomm are just a few of the companies that showcased drone and UAV technologies at the Showcase. After hearing from over 42 companies during the CES, here are my 5 bold predictions for the future of drones.

dji

1. Drones Will Be Automated

Today, drones are controlled by human operators. The new FAA regulations lay out a set of guidelines that every operator must abide by when flying their UAVs in US Airspace. The drones of tomorrow, however, may not require human operators at all. Startups and government agencies alike are researching technologies in areas of predictive and prescriptive analytics, allowing drones to analyze flight plans, detect and avoid obstacles, and communicate with one another, all in real time.

Silicon Valley Startup, DroneDeploy, and EU Startup, UAVIA, are just a few companies leading the developments in automated data collection and remote operation in the next generation of drones. DroneDeploy has developed a SAAS platform that allows users to automate data collection by allowing users to capture and analyze maps and 3D Models. UAVIA is developing connected drones and charging stations that remove the need for human operators.

dronevolt

2. Drones Will Take VR/AR to New Heights

With live-streaming videos and 10-second moments taking center stage,  we are entering an era where people can see the world in real-time, immerse themselves in another reality, and connect with one another like never before.

Drones connect us even further by providing a perspective that’s been unimaginable for centuries. Combining virtual and augmented reality systems with drone technologies present itself with a world of new possibilities. 360 cameras can be attached to drones and allow viewers to transport themselves to almost any location on the planet. More advanced systems can allow operators to control these drones in real time from across the world.

Startups like Drone Volt and Aerobo are pioneering this fusion of technology. Drone Volt specializes in the manufacturing, assembly, distribution and sales of advanced drones for professional usage, from audiovisual applications to security. They currently have a drone with ten, 4k cameras geared towards producing VR content. Aerobo is a drones-as-a-service company operating in entertainment, news, sports, real estate, industrial inspection, energy, and agriculture. The Aerobo Mini, their latest product, is a lightweight drone constructed with 3D printed plastic, reinforced with carbon fiber.

qualcomm

3. Drones Will Be The New Development Platform

The Smartphone fundamentally changed the way we communicate, navigate, shop, and more within the past decade. Drones are simply smartphones in the sky. They’re a set of processors and sensors with wings, set to disrupt numerous industries, including logistics, agriculture, and insurance. Google and Apple have developed ingeniously simple ways for developers to build on top of their platforms. Similarly, DJI is moving towards providing developers with the tools and resources needed to build on top of their platforms.

Numerous startups have taken advantage of drones as the new development platform, including FreeSkies and Airware. FreeSkies has developed an autonomous path planning interface that allows users to select 3D waypoints and automate their flightplans without any piloting experience. Airware has developed a platform for developers and enterprises to build applications from the sky.

star wars drone

4. Drones Will Fly in Swarms

Swarming technology is a form of artificial intelligence that will enable drones to imitate the flight patterns of certain insects. It could enable thousands of drones, working together, to achieve impossible tasks with current technology. They can assist in search and rescue missions, construct bridges in a matter of days, or even deliver goods to your doorstep. Advancements in artificial intelligence and cloud robotics will help lead the evolution of drones, where drones not only communicate with operators, but with one another.

The US Navy has initiated a Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program to allow a single operator to control a swarm of up to 30 drones. The GRASP Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania is researching drones that can sense and avoid one another and carry out tasks as a single unit. The CSAIL Laboratory at MIT is developing algorithms that can assist in drone navigation, surveillance, and mapping.

ehang drone

5. Drones Will Connect Our World

From advancing cellular technology to providing internet to remote areas, drone technology is connecting our world more than ever. Cellular companies are researching ways to extend cellular networks to the last gray areas on our map, while Facebook is developing a drone that can provide internet access to the furthest reaches of our planet. Facebook’s Internet.org is developing the Aquila drone using laser communications and millimeter wave systems to provide Internet coverage to areas of the world under-served by traditional connectivity infrastructure.

Google’s Project Skybender and Project Loon are exploring next-generation 5G wireless Internet access via drones and balloons respectively. The drones will use phased array technology to transmit data at high speeds.

I envision a future where drones are a major component of the IoT, a world where everything is connected, from your car to your home to the drones in the sky. Realizing this future will require deep collaboration between government institutions, corporations, and startups worldwide.

10 things I learned from a Venture Capitalist

Working on a start-up is one of the most self-fulfilling experiences you’ll ever encounter. Nothing ever goes as planned, you’ll fail numerous times, and you may experience some of the hardest moments in your life, but you learn at such a rapid pace that you either keep up, or be left behind. Many of my prior projects have failed, and many others were successful, but I’ve learned so much from every single one of them. Entrepreneurship can never be taught, it must be experienced. The following is what I’ve learned about entrepreneurship from my experience working with a Venture Capital Firm.

1. Entrepreneurship is hard, many are called, but few are chosen

If entrepreneurship was easy, everyone would be doing it, and you wouldn’t have a 10% success rate. It’s easier said that done. You’ve learned about startups failing in class or from others, but it’s not until you’ve experienced it that you realize how difficult it really is. With FreeSkies, we ran into numerous obstacles over the course of the summer in legal, business, and tech. You must be willing to tackle every problem that comes your way. And don’t expect overnight success. You hear that term thrown around often, but every successful company took years and years of hard work and failures before they figured it out. Hang in there and you will be successful too.

2. Entrepreneurship requires more than just energy, it requires insight and timing

The Market always wins. Never let your own passions and beliefs deceive you. You may have the greatest idea and best business model, but if the timing or market isn’t right, you’re sure to fail. Before we ever wrote a single line of code for FreeSkies, we interviewed hundreds of potential clients to see if we were solving a problem they truly had. If you can’t find a market for it, it’s either not the time, or a market doesn’t exist. Iterate on the market, not the product.

3. Sell, Design, Build, in that order

NOT Build, Design, Sell. Before you ever start building, evaluate your market. If you can’t sell your product before you’ve ever built it, there is no market for it. Engineers tend to build before selling. You think you have the next big idea, put in months of work, release the product, only to realize you’re the only one with that problem. Sell before you build! Test your assumptions, then go build what customers will love and recommend. Your product is 80% vision and 20% reality. Spend more time on that vision, figure out the real problem you’re solving, and once you’ve sold your product, that’s when you begin to design and build.

4. Only desperate people buy from startups

Go find that desperate customers and win them over, make them your chief evangelists. Find your niche market, and pursue it voraciously. If your end user isn’t willing to use an 80% product, they’re not your desperate market segment. Your desperate users are those who are willing to use your product no matter how many bugs or issues it may have. It doesn’t need to be complete, it just needs to solve a desperate problem. A great example of this is Cisco. When they first came out with their telecom system, half of the products they shipped arrived dead on delivery. What happened? Their customers bought another one. Cisco was solving a desperate problem that hadn’t been solved, and people were paying an arm and a leg to solve it.

5. Value before Growth Hypothesis, but not together

The value hypothesis tests whether a product or service really delivers value to customers once they start using it. The growth hypothesis tests how new customers will discover a product or service. Before you think about your growth, ensure you’re delivering value. Don’t try to scale too quickly, have some patience and make sure you are deliver real value to your customers before anything else, growth will follow.

6. Double down on what’s working, and don’t worry about what isn’t

It’s inconsequential. It’s important to learn from your mistakes, but stop dwelling on the past. If a certain plan doesn’t work, learn from it, and move on. Find what’s working, whether it’s speaking with certain customers, marketing on a specific medium, or speaking with investors, find what works and double down. When we attempted to contact potential users through blogs and forums for FreeSkies, we generated more response on certain forums, and less on others. Instead of spending time on why we weren’t generating leads from certain forums, we doubled down on the ones that were. A few other teams during our fellowship catered to very few clients, solving only the problems that they had. By the end of the fellowship, they realized they weren’t their real customers, and had built a product with no market. Double down on what’s working, and leave the rest.

7. Leadership requires selflessness

A Leader does not delegate tasks and watch as others do the work. In a startup, a leader is able to put down their ego and place the company above themselves. It’s not about what you’ve accomplished, it’s about what your company has accomplished. Leadership requires sacrifice, it requires taking risks. Pick a direction and go with it. “We might be wrong, but we are not confused.”

8. Be Compelling, Be Passionate

“Follow your passions and you’ll succeed!” Many of you may have heard this advice, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. While it’s important to work on something you truly enjoy, you must also be flexible. A startup requires multiple hats, and if you’re not well equipped, be prepared to fail. You’re not just an engineer, designer, or businessman in a startup, you’re an entrepreneur. Be compelling and passionate in everything that you do, whether it’s coding, presenting, designing, or all of the above.

9. Treat People the Right Way

With Integrity, Honesty, and Kindness. It goes a long way when you’re building your networks. In the startup world, relationships and connections go a long way, treat them with respect. Maneuvering Silicon Valley isn’t about having the best product, it’s about who you know and that applies to everything, jobs, friends, leads, customers, what ever it is, it will be based on relationships. Never burn bridges.

10. Embrace that you are a stumbler

We all are. We all make mistakes. Recognize your mistakes, hold yourself accountable, and be honest. The biggest mistake you can make in a startup, is inaction. You may be wrong, but at least you’re not confused. At FreeSkies, we’ve made many mistakes over the course of the past few months. We recognized them and learned from them, but always held each other accountable. If you make a mistake admit it and learn from it. Heroism comes from empathy.

Bonus: People don’t remember what you say, they remember how they felt when you said it

Make yourself memorable. You’re not selling a product, you’re selling an experience. Focus on the problem you’re solving and don’t play up your product or technology. Focus on their emotions, and you’ll win the crowd.