Alastair has over 10 years’ experience leading research activities in scaled, high-growth industrial and technology markets. At Interact Analysis he is responsible for electric trucks and buses, autonomous trucks and off-highway electrification.
Commercial unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operators are all too familiar with the challenges of UAV flight – poor weather, demanding clients, and the current regulatory environment to name but a few. However, according to discussions at the recent Drone Tech Europe event in Bristol one major challenge is the reliability of the hardware that they use. ‘Flyaway’ where control of a UAV is lost, or poor component quality – faulty drive motors, batteries, etc. – can lead to a drone being lost or, worse, causing damage to people or property.
In the aerospace industry, manufacturers must adhere to strict standards – for example, AS9100d – as a part of doing business. Whilst many of the larger and higher priced commercial UAS from established aerospace companies are heavily tested and use aerospace grade components, UAS from start-ups or from the consumer market lack rigorous testing and potentially the same quality of components. This isn’t, necessarily, a criticism – testing and quality component sourcing are a cost that can be difficult to bear, particularly for start-ups. However, for those operators using UAVs from newer vendors or those that could be classed as ‘prosumer’, they carry a risk to their own livelihood – hardware that fails could lead to lost income or substantial costs resulting from damages. Although insurance can mitigate this, it isn’t a substitute for systems that function reliably for many hundreds if not thousands of hours.
Although standards are on the table – the International Civil Aviation Organization proposed in 2015 a roadmap to develop standards for UAS – these are still many years away from adoption. In the short term, we believe that drone operators should be engaging – as a partnership – with their suppliers. These are some actions to consider:
- Report flyways and work with your supplier to identify the cause.
- When parts fail, ensure that this is reported to not only the supplier, but the sub-supplier too. If the route cause can be identified/rectified, ask that your supplier look at a part substitution or re-design.
- Operators would be wise to partner/lobby for action on quality standards.
Everyone wins if UAS quality is made a priority. Legislators/regulators will feel more confident in reducing the restrictions on UAS operations and operators will be less exposed to risk. Furthermore, start-ups will have a framework to test within and reassure potential customers of their quality. Finally, the large aerospace players will be able to leverage their experience and established supply chains to drive quality products.