In this webinar, four panelists from across Skyward come together to discuss drone program management and give an insider’s look at Skyward’s Aviation Management Platform.
Click here to watch the recording and download the slides, or read the transcript below.
Isaac Bruns (00:00)
Hello and thanks for joining us today for our webinar, Drone Program Management, Inside the Skyward Platform. I’m Isaac Bruns, a content manager here at Skyward, and I’ll be moderating our discussion.
So today we’re bringing together five panelists from five different locations as Skyward continues to work from home to support your drone operations during this time of Coronavirus. As you continue to use drones to serve essential services and critical infrastructure, we at Skyward want to support you with reliable software, program assistance, and helpful content to move you forward. So, I’m looking forward to diving into why program management software is so important for drone programs. I’m also excited to take an inside look at the Skyward Aviation Management Platform and some of our new features.
So if you’re just joining us, you’ll see our first poll. You can choose an option on there and tell us how you’re currently managing your program today. And it looks like a majority of our attendees today don’t have a program yet, it’s about 43%, but we do have quite a number that are working on it right now and are managing with either spreadsheets and internal processes or already have a drone program management software solution. So I’m very glad that all of our attendees have joined us today and I’m sure they will have some insights for you no matter how you’re managing your drone program right now.
Let me start out our webinar with some introductions. Joining me are four fantastic panelists from all across Skyward and each one is a subject matter expert in different parts of the platform. So first up, we have Bill Stafford, a professional services consultant for Skyward. Welcome Bill. And can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Bill Stafford (02:02)
Yeah, sure thing Isaac. I come from a background in military aviation with experience as a helicopter instructor pilot and as an unmanned operations officer. I currently serve in the Indiana National Guard as a pilot for our services support unit. For Skyward, I’m a lead trainer on our professional services team where we provide training and consulting on how to build and scale successful drone programs.
Isaac Bruns (02:26)
Thanks for joining us Bill. Next up, we have Mike Morris, Manager of Customer Success at Skyward. Hi Mike, why don’t you introduce yourself?
Mike Morris (02:36)
Hey Isaac, thanks so much. Hi everyone. This is Mike Morris. My role is to support Skyward’s customers with whatever they need, whether that’s answering regulatory questions, helping to manage software, or simply chatting about the future of drone operations. If I’m doing my job right, our software should feel personal and approachable. As a former high school teacher, I’m used to tons of off the wall questions, so feel free to try and stump me as we go today.
Isaac Bruns (03:00)
Great to have you on Mike. And finally, I have two product managers from Skyward’s software team. I’m excited to have both Sam Ewen and Amanda Breese on with us today because they’re part of the core team that develops and builds our platform. Sam and Amanda, thanks for joining us and tell us a little bit more about yourselves.
Sam Ewen (03:22)
Thanks Isaac. My name is Sam Ewen and I’m a product manager here at Skyward. My primary role is to work with our product development teams on both our API products and airspace products including LAANC. I came to Skyward with a background in traditional aviation and now my focus is on figuring out how I can help you, our customer, better run your drone program.
Amanda Breese (03:43)
Hi everyone. My name is Amanda Breese. I’m a product manager for Skyward’s web application. My focus is on the front end development, working pretty closely with our design and engineering teams to deliver the product. I have 10 years of experience working in engineering and support roles and I love any opportunity to talk to customers about their experience with our products.
Isaac Bruns (04:04)
Awesome. Thank you all for joining, and I’m so glad to be able to tap into your expertise. Before we get into our topic, I wanted to cover just a few quick logistics for our attendees. First of all, please feel free at any point to ask questions in the chat and Q&A boxes. In the chat box, be sure to select “All Panelists and Attendees” from that dropdown menu if you want everyone to get your message. We also have some Skyward team members online who will be answering questions or passing them along to our panelists during our live Q&A at the end. If we don’t get to your question, don’t worry, we’ll address top questions from the webinar in our followup materials. We will also be sending everyone who registered a recording and slides from this presentation, so you’re welcome to share them with colleagues or industry friends.
All right, so now that we’re through all that, let’s get right into our topic. Management software is really just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to drone operations. So I’d like to turn it over to our panelists to talk about the foundations of a successful program. So Bill, as an expert on the operational side, what kinds of steps does a company need to take to set up a good basis for a drone program?
Bill Stafford (05:31)
Yeah, thanks Isaac. When you’re thinking about a drone or thinking about drones, you have to realize that they’re aircraft that are required to work within the complex National Airspace System with commercial, military and civil aircraft. There are a lot of pieces that go into making sure a drone program meets the legal and corporate standards to conduct these operations, but I want to touch on two main areas.
First, there’s a written standard operating procedure or SOP. When you’re putting together a drone team, you’ll start to run into some inconsistencies in how each pilot is getting the job done, especially as your program begins to grow. For example, you may have one pilot who flies missions using one app to check airspace and another to log flights. The next pilot might go out and fly missions and they may use a whole different set of tools to collect different data.
All of a sudden you have conflicting standards and methods your pilots are using. Your operation won’t be consistent, and time and data get lost. Lack of standardization becomes the enemy of safety and efficiency. The easiest way to correct your course in this scenario is to establish a well-written standard operating procedure. These SOPs describe how to handle nearly every aspect of your operation. This will include things like job site safety, data collection, and flight logging. Critical items like planning, pre-flight, post-flight checks should be clearly laid out for all your pilots. Additionally, I would highly recommend an incident response plan to make sure you’re prepared for worst case scenarios like a crash.
So that’s your written program side of things. Another part of the operational readiness is your training. Getting your pilots ready to take the jobs into the field. As Skyward’s lead trainer, I’ve taught quite a few corporate groups about the basics of drone operations. When a company partners with Skyward for training, we usually start putting them through the online ground school to help them get prepared for the Part 107 certification. Once a company’s personnel have completed Part 107 exams, Skyward’s Professional Services team will come onsite, conduct classroom sessions and infield training. After conclusion of this training, organizations will be able to confidently begin operating not only their individual drones but to run a safe and effective program.
Most of the time the new pilots are subject matter experts in their own respective fields looking to use these drones to improve their own output. The experience of our students in classes has ranged from individuals with commercial and private licenses, some with drone experience and some with no aviation experience at all. But the learning curve for becoming a drone pilot isn’t huge, but it is critical to build a solid aviation foundation.
The graphic we’re showing here is one I like to use during our training. It helps me to explain the levels of responsibility a pilot has to think through. On the left side is the source of authority and on the right is the example of the question the pilot might need to ask themselves.
It starts on the outside with the manufacturer specifications and the national laws, and it goes all the way to the pilot’s personal comfort level and readiness for flight. Every pilot needs to know what steps to take to be comfortable at each level. Working your way up the pyramid lets you know whether it’s safe to fly or not.
So there are a few things that our program managers think about from an operational point of view. You’re going to want to have a really solid set of standard operating procedures and start out with good training practices before going out and getting your program too far.
Isaac Bruns (08:45)
Awesome. Thanks Bill. That’s a great overview of what it takes to get started from the operational side. So now let’s take a look at some of the regulatory requirements for making a drone program work. Mike, do you want to take this one?
Mike Morris (09:03)
Sure, Isaac. Thanks. There are a few different areas you’re going to need to think about when it comes to being ready from a regulatory standpoint. Like Bill already said, it really comes down to drones being aircraft that have to integrate into the national airspace. So the first step for any commercial pilot is going to be to get certified. Here in the United States, that means getting your Part 107 remote pilot certificate. It’s nowhere near as strenuous as getting a pilot’s license for a traditional crewed aircraft, but it does require you to pass a test from the FAA that takes some good study time.
Your next step is going to be making sure that you’re safely accessing that same airspace. Now, exactly what airspace you’re allowed to fly in depends on a variety of factors and it can change really quickly. It’s one reason why it’s so important to have a good airspace map that can account for things like temporary flight restrictions that might realistically pop up.
But there’s another problem. If you’re operating anywhere near an airport, like in most cities, you’re probably at least partly covered by controlled airspace. If that’s the case, then you’re going to need special permission to access that airspace. And this is where the FAA’s LAANC capability comes into play. LAANC is a partnership between the FAA and the drone industry that lets you designate zones you want to operate in, designate the altitude, and immediately request authorization to fly there. It’s a must-have if you want to fly in urban areas and cut down on operational delays. We’ll talk a little bit more about how Skyward does this later on.
And the final thing I want to talk about from a regulatory standpoint are operational waivers. Say you’re an electrical utility and you want to use drones to inspect a few miles of transmission lines. Well, at least here in the United States, you aren’t allowed to fly beyond the pilot’s line of sight, which means you’re really limited to how far you can go safely. If you need to fly farther, you’ll definitely want to look at getting a waiver from the FAA that will let you fly beyond visual line of sight and perform that advanced mission. You’ll also need waivers for other operations to do things like flying at night, over people, or operating your drone above 400 feet AGL. So, there’s a few things you want to look into from a regulatory standpoint that might come up as you’re setting up your drone operations.
Isaac Bruns (11:17)
Great, thanks Mike. Those are some good tips on how to meet some of those regulatory requirements. There’s one more area I’d like to take a look at as far as setting good foundations for a program, and that’s the technical needs. So Sam, can you talk to us about what kinds of technical challenges a drone program might run into?
Sam Ewen (11:40)
Yeah, definitely. The first consideration is the aircraft you’re going to be flying. There are a lot of options. Most programs won’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. The biggest factor to consider in choosing your drone is what kind of payload you need to carry. If all you need is a 4K camera, then great. A lot of the off-the-shelf professional drones today already have one integrated. But if you need to carry a larger gimbal, a thermal camera, or even a system like LiDAR, then you’ll need a larger drone with a mount. And there are a lot of options. If you want to learn more about a couple of the larger available drones, I’ll plug Skyward’s last webinar, which took a closer look at two of the higher end drones models, and you can find the recording of that under the resources tab in the skyward.io website.
Aside from choosing the right drone for your program, the other thing you’re going to need to account for from a technical perspective is the software. And you’ll actually need a couple of different kinds of software. The first one is for data management and processing. Drones generate a ton of data, so you’re going to need some kind of system that can store all of that data and turn it into a useful deliverable. You may want to turn photos into orthomosaic maps or 3D images, or maybe you have infrared data to add on top of that. And all of that takes a data processing system.
Secondly, on top of data storage and processing, you’re going to need software to help you manage your program. A program management platform will help you run operations as smoothly and safely as possible while making sure that you get the results that you need. So there you have a couple of the technical requirements for setting up a drone program.
Isaac Bruns (13:14)
Thanks Sam. I think it’s great to start our discussion with an overview of the foundations of a drone program because so many of the things that make a management platform essential come right out of those basic requirements.
So before we move on, we want to hear what struggles our attendees might be running into as you manage your programs. So you can take a look at that next poll that should have just popped up and you can share what kinds of problems you might find in handling the demands of a program. You might be running into things like low accountability for flight standards, or maybe you have some difficulty tracking and maintaining equipment or the certification records that can be hard to keep track of. Or maybe it’s just that you’re operating with a high level of risk and you’re looking for ways to mitigate that.
And I’m seeing those results come in now. Thanks everybody for sharing. It looks like we’ve got quite a few just kind of across the board. I’m seeing quite a few in operating with a high level of risk, and it looks like our attendees are looking at how they can mitigate some of those higher risks and bring that risk level down. There’s also quite a few that are saying there’s some low accountability for flight standards and some difficulty tracking how the operations are happening in the field. So thanks for that input. That’s really great. Please do remember that you can write in the chat or the Q&A boxes, if you have questions or comments on that.
A good program management platform can help reduce a lot of these problems, which is why it’s our main topic for today. As Sam just mentioned, a management platform is one of the ways that a company can really help their drone program run more smoothly. So now we need to talk about what a management platform is and why anyone would want to use one. Mike, can you tell us more about the purpose and the function behind one of these management platforms?
Mike Morris (15:26)
Yeah, sure. That sounds good. Pretty much any program at any company has a system for managing tasks and for optimizing workflows. Sometimes you have a lot of different systems for a number of different areas of the business. What we’re talking about here is a management system specifically built for your drone workflow.
Typically, a drone program management platform has a bunch of different tools that work together rolled into one package. First off, it’ll have an airspace map like I alluded to earlier, specifically for low altitude airspace that drones fly in. Then that platform will also have some flight logging tools. It usually has some level of capability for managing your personnel and assisting and tracking your assets like drones, batteries and equipment. There’s a good chance that it’ll also help you keep track of things like pilot certification records.
Now, the question becomes, why would you need all those tools? Well, if you’re managing your company’s drone ops, it’s an absolute lifesaver because you’re going to need all of that data in one form or another. For a lot of drone programs I talk with, they’re using things like spreadsheets to manage pilot certifications, flight logs, mission reporting, and so on. On one hand, spreadsheets are a great and familiar tool. They’re free and easy to work with. But on the other hand, they can’t account for a lot of really important things in a drone program.
Take an airspace map, for example. That’s one of the foundational tools we were just talking about. You can’t check airspace in a spreadsheet, it’s just not possible. Sure, you can probably find a free airspace checking app and add that on top of your spreadsheets, but then you’ll need another app to help you log your flights and you’ll want to make sure all your pilots are following safety procedures, so you’re going to need another one for that. You just can’t manage it all in a spreadsheet.
What it kind of comes down to is efficiency. When you have to juggle a half dozen apps to get your drone program off the ground, some very important step is bound to be forgotten. And if you’re scattered across a whole bunch of different tools, reporting on your program is probably a nightmare. I’ve seen some monster spreadsheets evolve from even relatively simple drone operations.
So, that’s a few of the reasons to bring a program management software platform in-house and a way that you can really bring value into your drone program as well as help it operate safely.
Isaac Bruns (17:47)
Thanks Mike. That’s a great introduction to what a drone program management platform is. Now, Bill, can you talk about how these tools come together to actually make things better for a drone program?
Bill Stafford (18:04)
Yeah. Sure thing Isaac, I’d be happy to. Let’s walk through a scenario and talk about how these management tools are helpful in each step. Let’s say you have a drone program at a construction company. You have a few different crews with drones and altogether you log maybe 5 to 10 flights on an average day. You’re going to need to start with the operational planning. For each one of those flights, the crew needs to check the airspace to make sure they’re authorized to fly where they are and that no temporary flight restrictions have come up suddenly. Your crew will then open their management platform and check the airspace needed for their flight.
If it turns out they’re in a region of surface-based controlled airspace where they will need to request access through LAANC. Using the same management platform, they quickly send out a request for authorization to fly in the controlled airspace. Authorization is automated and happens nearly instantly.
Now that they’re clear for the operation within the airspace, the crew’s going to run through their takeoff procedures. This should include some checklists to make sure everything is in order and maybe a risk assessment to make sure there are no red flags before taking off. If all of this is digital, it can be stored in a management platform and recorded if the manager needs to review it later.
After your crew takes off, flies the mission and collects the data they need over the course of these three flights, they can move to the post-flight stage. They can log their flights in the management platform so there’s a record of exactly where, when and how they flew. This information protects the crew from potential complaints of misconduct, protects the public since you have visibility into your crew’s operations and can hold them accountable.
And finally at the end of the day you could see all of your crew’s flights, operations and results for the day without ever having to leave the office. It’s all recorded and available for you. When you need to report up to leadership on your program, you can run reports and pull data on exactly how you’ve been operating to prove your safety and business case. So there’s an example of how a drone management platform can help and why it’s so important, especially for managers with larger programs with increased numbers of pilots and aircraft.
Isaac Bruns (19:59)
Thanks. That’s a great rundown of why a management platform is so important. So now that we’ve talked about management platforms in general, let’s take an insider’s look at Skyward’s Aviation Management Platform and some of our brand new features. I love that we have such great expertise on our panel today to unpack some of Skyward’s features and show how they solve common problems. So Sam, I’ll turn it over to you and the team to take us through the platform.
Sam Ewen (20:31)
Great, Isaac. Let’s start off by taking a look at Skyward’s Airspace Intelligence Map. Knowing where you can fly is one of the most important factors in operating drones safely. Airspace can look complicated, but Skyward simplifies it into four colors. Red for restricted areas you usually can’t fly, blue for controlled airspace with LAANC availability, orange for other controlled airspace where LAANC is not available, and yellow for advisory zones around places like state parks, schools, and other areas that warrant extra caution. It’s sort of a stoplight system that lets you know at a glance whether you can fly in a particular area. Airspace can also change very quickly, so we took that into account. Our map includes things like temporary flight restrictions that can pop up very quickly and stop you from flying.
Our airspace map is at the core of Skyward’s operation management platform. By clicking a point on the map, you can drop a pin and start planning your flights in Skyward. You can draw areas of operation, mark hazards that might affect your flight and assign crew and equipment.
There’s one other really important integration on the map and I want to point that out, and that’s LAANC. Mike and Bill already talked a little bit about how LAANC can give you access to controlled airspace. To use it in Skyward you just create a flight area. From there you can set your date, your time, and your pilot and then hit request authorization. Once you’ve read through and accepted the FAA notices, your request is submitted, and it’s usually approved in seconds. You can submit a LAANC request in the desktop web app and on our mobile app.
Mike Morris (22:10)
Yeah. And Sam, I think that’s a really good place for me to hop in and add something. One of the great things about Skyward’s software platform is that it’s not only available in a web interface. We also have a mobile application. Skyward’s mobile app is for iOS devices and we call it InFlight. It’s basically a complete ground-control system that lets you pilot compatible drones, and it’s available in the app store for download anytime for free. You get the same airspace map on your iPad or iPhone that you do in your browser so you can check airspace ahead of time, then check it again in the field to make sure nothing has changed.
Same thing with flight planning. If you plan a flight area, you’ll be able to see that in InFlight. That means when you take off, you can see your mission details while you’re in the air, including your defined flight area. This is especially useful in controlled airspace where you may have to ensure that you’re only flying in the one specific grid or that specific airspace that you requested authorization to fly in. In addition to reviewing airspace, you can create an operation right where you are in the field, and that’ll sync back and be viewable in the web application. Once that operation is created, you’ll be able to request LAANC, update operational details, and ensure that all of your information is accurate and complete.
InFlight also includes camera controls, return to home points, and all of those essential flight tools you need for a safe operation. This also means features like checklists that you’d otherwise have to carry into the field in paper form. On top of all that, InFlight automatically logs your flights right back into the Skyward platform for the individual operation to which they’re assigned. So that means you don’t have to go through steps later to manually attach those flights to an operation.
Hey Amanda, speaking of flight logging, do you want to talk about Flight Insights a little bit and what kind of data we have available in Skyward?
Amanda Breese (24:04)
Yeah, sure. Flight Insights is the name we gave to our tool for managing flight logs. If you’re like most people, you probably don’t find flight logs too exciting. But when you’ve generated a lot of them, you need some way to intelligently sort through them so you can find the data that you need. So that was the goal here. If you go to the flights tab in Skyward, it shows all of your logged flights clustered into groups with the number of flights in each group. The individual flights are also listed out on the right side panel and all of this can be filtered by time range, by personnel, by aircraft, or even flight areas to narrow it down.
If you click on a group, it zooms in on them and breaks them out into subgroups and individual flights. So that helps you see from a very high level where your pilots are flying. If you click on a particular flight, you get core information for the flight, like a path, the day and time, the maximum altitude, and the distance flown. And if you want to dive in further, you can click that “More Details” button for deeper insights. This has everything from altitude throughout the flight to the battery voltage used. Flight Insights is a really helpful tool for program managers, whether you’re just quickly glancing at your recent flights or you’re looking for detailed information on a mission, and it ties in really well to some of the other personnel and fleet management tools that we have.
Isaac Bruns (25:30)
And then Mike, do you want to tell us just a little bit more about the Skyward platform?
Mike Morris (25:36)
Yeah, thank you, Isaac. I’ve heard from a lot of customers that Flight Insights has been really helpful for reviewing their flight operations. And along with that, I just want to give a quick flyby of some of the other core features in Skyward.
We talked about how any drone management platform has tools for managing personnel, and Skyward is no different. Skyward can keep track of your pilot’s assignments, their Part 107 certification statuses, and it can even be used to notify crews of upcoming missions. Skyward can also track your fleet of drones regardless of manufacturer. It includes maintenance logs and it tracks total flight hours for aircraft so that you know when it’s nearing retirement.
Skyward also includes reporting tools for when you need to run the numbers up to your leadership team. We even have APIs available that help you connect Skyward into your core business systems. And as one last little feature to call out, Skyward includes checklists and a risk assessment, which is an aviation staple, to help you stay compliant in the field. Amanda is going to go over this a bit later and we’re really excited about it. So, that’s just a really quick, high-level overview of what Skyward has to offer to growing aviation teams.
Isaac Bruns (26:50)
Thanks everybody. That’s just a great look at the Skyward platform. And it’s great to just hear how all those pieces come together. I did want to mention that InFlight is available for Skyward subscribers.
Now obviously we don’t have time to cover all of the features in the Skyward platform here. But if you want a closer look, Skyward has a platform overview that you can download on our website and we can include that document in our followup materials.
So now we are going to have the chance to hear about a couple of brand new features in Skyward. These are available today to business and enterprise subscribers, and I’m excited to dive into them. Sam, why don’t you kick us off with our first new feature?
Sam Ewen (27:38)
Absolutely. I’m very excited to be able to tell you a bit about Live Flights in Skyward, which is a brand new feature we released in mid April. Live Flights lets your organization see your drone flights on the Skyward map as they’re happening, and that means that you can keep an eye on all of your field and flight crews as they fly and watch them operate in essentially real time. As soon as a pilot connects a compatible drone to InFlight, the drone’s information is automatically sent into Skyward. And anyone within your organization can see the live position of the drone and if they tap on it, they can see things like the pilot’s location and the flight trail over the last minute of the flight.
This information is only visible to members of your organization and they can see it in InFlight or on the new “Live” tab in the web app. If you need to report the location of another asset in your mission, for example, a truck or a visual observer, you can also do that using the location of a device running InFlight. This even works for reporting the location of drones that aren’t compatible with InFlight.
We know that a lot of our customers are still working hard using drones to keep up critical infrastructure and respond to disasters. Those programs still need to be monitored for safety and compliance, so Live Flights allows our customers to better plan and execute operations no matter where they’re launching drones.
The other reason we’re so excited about Live Flights is that it serves as a basis for our implementation of Remote ID. This is taking us one step closer to a solution that will identify all the drones in the sky and help them safely share the airspace.
Isaac Bruns (29:08)
Thanks for that look at Life Flights, Sam. It’s been really cool to see it in action while we’re all working from home and see those remote flights. So we have another addition to our software platform that just came out. Amanda, do you want to take us through our next new feature?
Amanda Breese (29:25)
Absolutely. You guys heard Bill and Mike mention risk assessments, and I’m really happy to introduce Skyward’s risk assessment tool, which just came out on our mobile and web platforms this week.
At Skyward we talk with a lot of drone program managers, and one of the concerns they often bring up is the need to assess risk before every operation. Since assessing risk can take time and it can delay a mission, sometimes it’s easy for the field crews to overlook it. So, Skyward built a solution that can help crews and managers stay on the same page and track risk levels across the company.
Skyward’s risk assessment uses a series of questions developed by our experts in commercial, private and military aviation. You can choose a yes, a no, or a not applicable option for each question. The way risk is determined is pretty simple. Each answer is assigned a risk level that’s either low, moderate, or high, and as you answer the questions, the overall risk score is updated based on the highest level of risk that you’ve recognized on the assessment. So for example, you have four low-risk scores, two moderate and one high, your risk score is going to be high. We chose this method because it’s pretty straightforward, but it’s also a really effective way to capture a snapshot of your risk without using complicated scoring formulas.
You can also add mitigation, which gives you the ability to add a note explaining how that risk has been addressed by the crew. The risk level can then be lowered and the overall score will be adjusted to reflect that and all of that is saved in the system. So overall, it’s a pretty simple feature, but it’s really a boost for programs looking to operate as safely as possible.
Isaac Bruns (31:04)
Thanks Amanda. Safety is especially important during this time of COVID, with emergency response already so busy. Live Flights and risk assessment are two great new additions. So now, our next new feature is sort of a crossover between Skyward’s software and our Professional Services team. It’s a way that businesses can use the power of Skyward for their own reporting. Mike, do you want to tell us more about this one?
Mike Morris (31:33)
Yeah, I’d love to. I get the pleasure to talk about Skyward’s Program Manager Dashboard. We’ve already talked a little bit about how Skyward can give some deep insights to program managers running growing drone programs. Well, another thing Skyward offers is APIs which connect Skyward directly into your internal business intelligence systems for enterprises with large drone fleets. It makes reporting on and evaluating your drone program that much easier.
But developing against APIs takes a lot of time and expertise, and you’ve also got to call in the IT folks. So we’ve created a prebuilt reporting dashboard that you can use that removes a lot of the setup and maintenance overhead for your analytics and helps you pull out those deep insights for you that might be useful for things like weekly or monthly stakeholder reporting. Even better, it allows those users that might not otherwise need to be in Skyward all the time to have access to data about the health of your drone program in near real time.
Isaac Bruns (32:34)
Thanks Mike. I have got to think that that program manager dashboard will make reporting a lot easier for larger companies. There’s one other new offering I want to talk about today and this one is from our professional services team, and it’s something that might be helpful while we’re in this kind of shutdown state during quarantine. Bill, would you tell us a little bit about Skyward’s remote program assessment?
Bill Stafford 33:00)
Yeah, sure. The remote program assessment is a way that Skyward’s professional services team can deliver some value to enterprise drone teams while we can’t do training in person. As I said earlier, there’s a lot that goes into running and scaling a successful drone program. So this is a chance to have a Skyward consultant join you for a web conference to help you assess your program’s health and suggest some refinements.
In your first meeting with a consultant, you’ll do some introductions, talk about your program goals, and discuss areas of concern. Then the consultants will go in and review a number of your records, take a look at everything from your operating procedures and documentation and how well these policies are actually integrated into your program. As I’m sure you know, a stack of robust documents is useless if they’re not translating into your day-to day-operations.
Then you’ll have another web conference with a consultant to review the findings. We’ll provide you a report with actionable recommendations based on real world enterprise program management experience. We’ll also schedule a followup consultation several months later to review the success and provide further course corrections as needed. And if you decide you want to move forward with more of Skyward’s professional services, part of the cost of the program assessment will be credited toward those services.
Isaac Bruns (34:13)
That’s awesome, Bill. Thanks. And if any of our attendees want to learn more about that remote program assessment, you’ll have a chance to let us know in just a minute.
We’ve covered a lot of ground today and we’re just about to head into our Q&A time. But first I wanted to let you know about one more thing that might be really helpful for organizations responding to emergency situations, especially during this COVID-19 crisis. The FAA has something called the SGI process, which stands for Special Governmental Interest. The SGI process enables public entities like towns or states and first responders like police or fire departments to apply for expedited consideration of waivers and authorizations.
This is not a Skyward product, but it is an opportunity for public entities to get fast approval for operations they may need to perform that they can’t usually do under standard Part 107 parameters. And while private companies cannot apply for SGI consideration, they can support public entities with the application process. The SGI process can also be used to expedite consideration for a Certificate of Authorization for Operations, or what’s sometimes known as a COA. Normally applying for a COA or a waiver takes weeks or months, but the SGI process enables rapid consideration for these applications in the case of emergency operations such as COVID-19 relief or natural disasters. The FAA has emphasized that the SGI process should be used for COVID response, but only one approval is known to have been issued so far.
So, why is this helpful? Well, with expedited waivers, you might, for example, be able to fly beyond line of sight so that you can provide disaster assessment more quickly. The FAA’s SGI Response Center is available to process emergency requests 24/7, sometimes in a matter of hours. And with a COA you might be able to do things you couldn’t even with the waiver such as transporting medical samples for testing.
Now, if you want to apply for a waiver or a COA, you’ll need a well-crafted application and rock-solid processes to mitigate as many risks as possible. The FAA has identified many specific air and ground risks that must be mitigated in various operations, and if you don’t address them in your application, it’s likely to get delayed or even rejected. So, if you want to take advantage of these expedited opportunities, but you need help putting together your application, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we would love to talk to you about how we can help you get it done. So that was just a very brief overview of a complicated subject, but I wanted to make you aware of this opportunity since it’s so relevant today.
As we move into our Q&A time, I want to open one last poll, and this is just a chance for you to let us know if you’d like someone at Skyward to contact you about anything we’ve talked about today. If you’d like more information on the SGI and COA opportunities, please select that option and we’ll be sure to keep you updated as we collect more information about these. And if something else caught your attention, like Skyward’s Aviation Management platform or the program manager dashboard, you can select those too and we’ll be sure to have a Skyward representative reach out to you.
All right. So let’s dive into our Q&A. Let’s see what we’ve got here. First of all, we have a question that was submitted ahead of time, and they were asking, “How does Skyward help manage corporate drone programs, and what are some best use practices in storing imagery, videos, photos, and the GIS data extracted from the imagery collected.” Maybe I could hand this over to Bill. Could you tell us a bit more about how Skyward helps manage corporate drone programs and maybe some of those best data practices?
Bill Stafford (38:41)
Yeah, Isaac. The thing with data, it’s this very sticky situation. I think in any corporate setting, everybody is expected to handle data in a sensitive manner. So whether you’re taking video or photos of a construction site, utility, there’s proprietary information in there, there’s corporate information. And then what do you do? I know coming from the military we weren’t allowed to connect hard drives into our actual systems. So it complicates the process for handling that data: where to store it, how long do you store it?
And these should be covered in that SOP. It is definitely something we recommend. Everybody has a different corporate policy, so we can’t lay down a set of rules and say you should do X, Y, and Z. But we do say you really need to address it as you start to collect data. You can imagine, as you have 10, 15, 20 pilots all collecting megabytes and gigabytes of data, it can create a problem just to store the information and then what do you do with it? And I think we all have a file somewhere on our computer that’s just filled with photos that we can never get through.
So some of the things that we do recommend are: one, incorporating it into the SOP, and then making sure you partner with your IT and their network assurance people, to make sure that you’re in compliance with your company’s policy on that. Your SOP should always be kind of nested within your corporate policy, especially for concerns with IT.
And then Skyward is offering a partnership with Unleash live for a secure database for these types of media products. They don’t necessarily have to be stored on your corporate computers or a corporate server, and it’s going to be protected from that or protected in that location.
Isaac Bruns (40:31)
Awesome. Thanks for that, Bill. And then we’ve got another question coming in that was submitted ahead of time. They’re asking, is there an ROI for using a management software platform like Skyward? Sam, do you want to go ahead and take that and talk about ROI in terms of management platforms?
Sam Ewen (40:55)
Yeah, I’d be happy to. I think ROI in terms of spinning up a drone program is one of the things that Skyward is really here to support and help you increase your ROI. There are three ways that I think that come to mind for that. One of those is just in terms of time saved. We talked about this a little bit earlier. There are a lot of different facets of a drone program between asset management and coordinating with your pilots and their certificates and airspace access and all sorts of different things. It can get really complicated really fast if you’re trying to do that in many different areas. So one of the big benefits of Skyward is that you get all of that in one place. You’re not juggling through apps. So that’s a big time saver.
And then another huge one for companies, for corporate drone programs, is risk reduction. And a couple of really core pieces there with the Skyward platform in terms of risk reduction are, A, confidence in the airspace and knowing that you can find out where you’re able to fly and where you’re not able to fly by using the Skyward map, as well as getting access to things like LAANC that you might not have access to through other avenues.
And the other term or other piece there for risk is our new feature that Amanda showed off a little earlier, which is our flight risk assessment. That’s really a critical tool in identifying and mitigating any risks that your operation might have.
And then finally I think one of the factors that goes into ROI for a drone management software platform like Skyward is that it really opens up or kind of expands the program possibilities for a drone program. And I think this is where a lot of really interesting creative places for ROI comes in, where the money really rolls in, where you’re able to perform your jobs faster and with less overhead with drones than you may have been able to do in a traditional sense. Things like not having to send a person up a ladder or a tower, that kind of thing. So yeah, I think there’s a lot of different ways that you can find a good ROI using Skyward drone management software.
Isaac Bruns (43:39)
That’s great. Appreciate that. All right. Here’s another one. And maybe Mike, I’ll send this one over to you. This person has some applications in the utility’s industry that they’re testing and they’re wondering what some of the trends are in terms of drones in utilities. So Mike, I’ll hand that over to you.
Mike Morris (44:04)
Yeah, thanks Isaac. We’ve kind of seen this take off in a lot of different ways. And really for the most part, especially when it comes to utilities, we’ve seen a lot of work regarding inspection. Whether you’re talking energy and utilities where it’s transmission lines or substations, or solar and wind farms, or oil and natural gas where you’ve got things like pipelines and gas leak detection. There is a lot of inspection kind of suitability for drones and using drones to perform that work. I know that our website has a lot more information on each of those use cases and kind of dives a little bit more granularly into each of them, but those utility inspections continue to proliferate across the industry and we’ve seen more and more of our clients picking that up as a mantle for what they seek to do with drones moving through 2020.
Isaac Bruns (45:02)
Excellent. Thank you. All right. We’ve got a couple of people asking about the risk assessment tool that Amanda was talking about during the webinar and wondering about getting a few more details. So, Amanda, do you want to talk just a little bit more about that and maybe what kinds of updates we might be making to that going into the future?
Amanda Breese (45:25)
Sure thing. So the risk assessment, initially what we’ve released is our questions developed by our team. So that’s what you’re going to get initially. We have plans to make that customizable. You heard Bill talk a lot about standard operating procedures, which are really important and very specific to a lot of different companies in how they operate. So that risk assessment, we wanted to make sure that it was configurable for your own standard operating procedures. So our next release of that risk assessment will be, you’ll be able to go in and actually edit those questions and change the responses so you can make it completely configurable for your own standard operating procedures. We’re looking to release that sometime in this quarter. So keep an eye out for that.
Isaac Bruns (46:13)
Excellent. Thank you for that. So we also have a question that came in about the Live Flight tracking feature. And so Sam, I’ll send this over to you. They are wondering about how the Live Flights look on the map and whether a manager separate from the pilot can view the pilot in the field, and kind of how that all works together. So Sam, do you think we could get a few more details on that?
Sam Ewen (46:43)
Yeah, for sure. And so, the question about a manager in the office being able to see what’s going on with the pilots in the field, that’s one of the exact use cases that we designed Live Flights for. Especially if you’re in the office, if you’re running a drone program and you could have one or you could have dozens of different operations going on at the same time out in the field in different locations, the Skyward live feature allows you to, from one location, see kind of the state of what’s going on with your program. You can see where your pilots are, what the flight profile of the drones that are currently flying looks like.
And that’s available in the web application in our Live Flights map. It’s also available in InFlight, our mobile application. The primary use designed for there with the InFlight application viewing Live Flights is when you have people out in the field who are looking to coordinate their operation. You might have a pilot in one location and you might have a support vehicle for that operation, but it might be a couple hundred yards away. And being able to know, for more complicated operations, where the other resources are, where the other people are, and being able to coordinate in that fashion, as well as if you’ve got a lot of stuff going on, a lot of people out flying and you want to do a quick check to see if you have any other company pilots or company flights going on in your area, InFlight enables that as well.
Isaac Bruns (48:24)
Excellent. Thank you. So we got another one in here that’s asking, and I’ll send this one over toward Bill. So they’re asking, does Skyward have any plans to provide BVLOS or Beyond Visual Line of Sight consulting services, or if we’re planning to back any technology that would enable this as part of a company’s strategy? So Bill, could you talk a little bit about maybe beyond visual line of sight and maybe where Skyward is trying to head in the future?
Bill Stafford (48:59)
Yeah. So for just kind of everybody, I think most of us understand that beyond the line of sight is this kind of, once we are able to do that, the capabilities that drones bring to the table just explodes. It will be truly game changing for so many different industries when we are able to go beyond visual line of sight. It’s also the hardest thing to get. You just have to be honest and say that everybody is chasing the BVLOS down. But there are some technical and regulatory hurdles. They’re kind of coinciding with one another. It requires FAA approval. It’s going to require a lot of different types of ways for us to see where the drones are. If you can’t see them physically, then how are you going to see them in a digital space?
Our Live Flight is actually a great example of where I can log in and see drones operating. And that’s where we make that kind of… it’s going to be some fundamental steps of like, first we’re going to be small one-to-one but flying a drone over a short period of time. We have an entire Aviation Development Center that is working with our partner Verizon, our parent company, using cellular technology to connect these drones. So this is at the very front of what we’re going to be doing, and we want to provide that to every company because it’s just a huge return on investment.
But there are a lot of technical and regulatory hurdles out there, so we’re all kind of facing them together. And it’s not a simple solution with a piece of software or a procedural documentation. It’s going to take all of it, and there’s going to be some proof of effectiveness and safety from an organization before the FAA really starts signing off on that. So, look for it to be in baby steps is the best I can do, but absolutely we are chasing this down on a daily basis and I’m sure our marketing team will do a really great job of highlighting it when it does happen. So it’ll be an exciting time. We’re really looking forward to being part of that.
Isaac Bruns (51:13)
All right. I appreciate that Bill. Thank you. All right. We’ve got another question that is asking, is Skyward’s software features, are they drone dependent? And if so, is there a list of supported drones? So Mike, if I could ask you to answer that one and talk about what drones Skyward supports.
Mike Morris (51:37)
Yeah, Isaac, no problem. So the short answer is we really like to think of ourselves as a drone agnostic platform. When it comes to flight logging, hours accrual, things like that, that’s something that you can do with any type of drone. Whether you’re flying drones that are meant for indoor, GPS-denied environments or the common ones that are being flown out in the field. When it comes to getting into the specifics of actually piloting a drone, that is where we have some more manufacturer dependencies. InFlight, for example, at this point only supports DJI drones, including all of the sort of standard DJI flavors that are being used in the market right now.
There is a list of them available in our user guide, which you can access from the website or by clicking the help button inside of the Skyward app. And that’s going to give you all of the compatibility for which drones you can actually pilot. But outside of that, you’re free to add any drone that you want to the system and upload flight logs relative to the flights that you perform with those drones, even if they don’t sync back automatically as part of an integration.
Isaac Bruns (52:46)
Excellent. Thank you. And next up we have a frequently asked question, and I’ll send this one over to Amanda. Any plans for bringing Skyward to Android mobile?
Amanda Breese (53:01)
Yeah. So I think, I don’t remember if it was Mike or Sam might’ve mentioned it earlier. We are working on an Android mobile application. We have very recently started that process. So our teams are working very hard to deliver that as soon as we can.
Isaac Bruns (53:18)
Excellent. Thank you. Looking forward to that. And here we’ve got another question about the Live Flights feature. And so, I’ll send this over to Sam. They’re asking, how does the management system get the location of the drone and what’s the level of location resolution? So, how specific is it? Sam, can you speak toward that?
Sam Ewen (53:43)
Yeah, I’d be happy to. The Skyward Live Flights feature right now supports participating drones using the Skyward InFlight application. So anytime one of your pilots fires up InFlight and connects the drone and starts flying or is doing some of the self reporting, position reporting through InFlight, for example like a truck or a visual observer that I mentioned earlier, that will get fed into the Skyward Live Flight system. Right now what we support is participating aircraft and position for people within your organization. And that’s going to be pretty high resolution. It is dependent on the GPS accuracy of the actual drone or the device that you’re using. But in good conditions you’re going to have down to a couple feet accuracy as far as latitude, longitude and as well as elevation.
Isaac Bruns (54:53)
Awesome. Thank you so much. And that is unfortunately all the time we have for Q&A today. We are just about at the top of the hour. So thank you very much for joining us for today’s webinar and a big thank you to our panelists for all of that information and the great Q&A.
As we close, I just want to reiterate that Skyward is still here to support drone programs across the country. And if you’re looking for support or you just have questions, please feel free to drop us an email at email@example.com or visit the skyward.io website. You can also keep an eye on the Skyward website for more upcoming webinars and online content that will be coming out very soon. I hope that you’re all staying safe and healthy, and I hope your drone program continues onward, upward, and Skyward.