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Dual-Use Drone Technology: Closing the Gap Between Military and Commercial Applications

dual-use dronedual-use droneDual-use drone technology offers new opportunities for drone service providers, manufacturers, and both military and commercial customers.

The following is a guest post by Edmond Hennessy, CEO Performance Marketing Group (PMGResults).  DRONELIFE neither accepts nor makes payment for guest posts.

The previously clear lines between Defense and Commercial technology developments and use have been blurred over time.  In some circles, dual-use drone technology has become mandatory: technology developers must demonstrate that their product solutions are applicable to both Defense and Commercial applications, utilizing common components and parts.

Dual-Use Drone Tech Has Changed Over Time

Historically, unmanned vehicles were developed first by the Government/Military complex (DOD), as the first priority, and then found their way into the Commercial world.

An early-stage example is Global Hawk – a high-altitude/high-endurance UAV, which was developed in the mid- 90’s with a consortium consisting of DARPA (lead technology source), Defense Contractors (Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and others), Academia and a range of COTS (Commercial Off-the-Shelf) providers.

The original intent was to leverage this breakthrough platform for surveillance/reconnaissance use in Combat-Ready environments. New capabilities were added: Foliage Penetrating Radar, Linguistics Systems (language processors), Decision-Support Systems, Advanced Communication Systems and other capabilities, making Global Hawk a fully autonomous vehicle with interoperability in the future.

Moving into Dual-Use Drone Applications

Today, Global Hawk is also utilized for non-defense applications: Drug Interdiction, Mapping and Topography, Structural Investigation, and more.  It is also common for the roles to be reversed: with Commercial UAS and Drone developers translating their capabilities into the Defense Market.

Commercial Drone providers have extended their influence into the Aerospace and Defense target segments with Flight Control Systems, Ground Control Systems and advanced graphic-processing capabilities that can populate existing, military drone platforms.  These commercial providers are now focused on gaining traction and support with US DOD Program Offices and Agencies (cross-military lines), selected Defense Contractors and other sources that need to leverage their capabilities.

The Driver Behind the Cross-Over: Miniaturization

This is a different audience for the drone support provider, although it represents a new market opportunity that will catapult their core business.  Since the advent of Global Hawk and other formidably-named platforms like Predator, Shadow, Avenger, Valkyrie, and others, the Industry has gone through a “miniaturization curve,” which addresses new threats and has spawned a range of mission-critical applications.  This miniaturization is the driver that has segmented the unmanned vehicle market into high-end UAVs, sUAS and Drones – and which has paved the way for the adoption and acceptance of these platforms within the Commercial Market.

Industry statistics indicate that due to the miniaturization curve, unmanned aircraft will grow from several hundred different types to more than 10,000 varieties that will service the continuous demands of both the Defense and Commercial Markets.  This will continues to drive the industry to unveil mini, nano, micro, and eventually microscopic platforms that vary according to mission requirements.

Clearly, this makes the unmanned aircraft market attractive to technology developers and investors alike: the drone industry is predicted to be a $400 Billion global market by 2025.

For reference, the New York Observer magazine ran an article about the proliferation of drones indicating that within 5-7 years there could be 30,000 plus drones circulating over Manhattan.  Applications could include broadcasting/communications, news, surveillance, political coverage, store and product promotions, security measures, traffic monitoring, and more.

New York is just one major city – consider the overall impact across the country.

The underbelly of this almost Science-Fiction-like market are the range of technologies that support these incredible platforms. Drones may look simplistic on the surface, but under the hood are some of the most sophisticated and advanced technologies on the planet.  The range and mix include thermal technologies, LIDAR technologies, camera technologies, sensor-based technologies, propulsion systems, navigation, guidance and control systems, network communication systems, targeting systems, and more.

In the past, these technologies were viewed as discrete elements of the overall platform. In today’s domain, they are viewed and developed as an ecosystem: a good indication of how the design mentality has changed over the years.

At the same time as dual-use drone tech has evolved, the capabilities and ingenuity of the user community has also evolved: resulting in an abundance of practical applications including Search and Rescue, Counter-UAS (a major, Industry-wide Initiative), Threat Detection, Urban Surveillance, Delivery Mechanisms (retail fulfillment), Video Security (in contested environments), Structural Identification/Repair (buildings, bridges, etc.) – a nearly endless list.

Although the market is fragmented, with major industry players and small-to-medium-sized providers vying for position, much of the innovation is coming from early-stage companies and start-ups that represent a cottage industry movement.

It may not have been possible decades ago (in its roots) to see what the drone market would become, but today, drones are redefining the rules of everything they touch.

It does have the feel of Science-Fiction in play –  and if we had paid more attention to the movie “the Fifth Element” and the exploits of New York City air taxi driver, Korben Dallas, we may have already figured it out.

dual use drone technology closing the gap between military and commercial applications 1 Airplane GEEK Dual-Use Drone Technology: Closing the Gap Between Military and Commercial Applicationsdual use drone technology closing the gap between military and commercial applications 1 Airplane GEEK Dual-Use Drone Technology: Closing the Gap Between Military and Commercial ApplicationsEdmond Hennessy is a seasoned, well-recognized veteran in the COTS Embedded Market. He has authored many works including the “Mission-Ready COTS” Industry Guidebook, “COTS Supportability & the Life-Cycle Proposition” and “Beyond COTS: Repackaging, Reformatting & Tech Transfers.” He has participated in key industry panels, has been a keynote speaker in E-casts dedicated to signal-processing applications and has been tapped as an industry executive to comment on disruptive and emerging technologies that impact the Defense, Military and Aerospace Target segments. Mr. Hennessy heads up the Performance Marketing Group (PMG), a private market consulting firm. His new book, Market Warfare: Leadership & Domination over Competitors has been described as a breakthrough work that is changing the Market landscape.

dual use drone technology closing the gap between military and commercial applications 2 Airplane GEEK Dual-Use Drone Technology: Closing the Gap Between Military and Commercial Applicationsdual use drone technology closing the gap between military and commercial applications 2 Airplane GEEK Dual-Use Drone Technology: Closing the Gap Between Military and Commercial Applications

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.

TWITTER:@spaldingbarker

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