The Future of Commercial Drones: Interview with the Tesla Foundation

In Drone Law Blog, Drone Uses, ROI and Industry Case Studies by Enrico Schaefer1 Comment

International Drone Expo

Wondering about the future of commercial drones?

In this interview with Keith Kaplan, the CEO of the Tesla Foundation, we talk about the upcoming International Drone Expo in Los Angeles, California December 11-12 at the LA Convention Center.  If you are launching a FAA section 333 commercial drone business, an end-user of drone services, a sUAS software or hardware developer, a scientist studying sUAS or interested in aviation innovation .. . you need to attend this conference which expects over 10,000 attendees each day.

This will be the biggest commercial drone conference in history.

Drone attorney Enrico Schaefer is currently scheduling meetings with sUAS clients and friends on Dec. 10, 11 and 12. Email Enrico if you are attending and want to meet-up for face-to-face introduction or to get your sUAS questions answered.

Enrico:  Welcome to  Today on our show we’ve got a very special guest.  We’ve got Keith Caplin.  Keith Kaplin is the CEO of Tesla Foundation, where I am sure you are familiar with that.  He is also the President of UASA which is a non-profit group that is really at the forefront of commercial use of drones and putting together the community that is going to be at the end of the sphere when it comes to innovation and applications in the market for drone use.  Welcome to the show Keith!

Keith:  Thank you so much Enrico.  Really, really happy to be here. Really enjoy all the things that you promote and fantastic legal information that your organization has hooked up.

Enrico:  I appreciate that.  I want to talk today about the thing that’s really coming up very quickly.  It’s the IDE Conference. It’s the International Drone Conference which I find that is really interesting, because your drones are international by nature.  Everything that’s happening we’ve got our, of course, Federal Regulations and State Regulations, but it’s really an International phenomena – SUAS.  Tell us a little bit about the conference that is coming up in Los Angeles at the L.A. Convention Center, December 11th and 12th.  That’s really fast.  People need to get registered.  Tell us why this conference is happening.

Keith:  The conference is actually happening, because a couple of years ago before this all hit the press there was an organization that was taking place by Congress dealing with the integration of SUAS.  What we commonly call the commercial drones.  The FAA held a meeting that basically was the first public hearing and gathering about integration and also a center of excellence.  This was a couple of years ago.  The Tesla Foundation was invited.  We were participating in some of the different organization of the teams for the Center of Excellence study this type of integration.  We realized that there were some fantastic robotic organizations out there, but there wasn’t really an association that was representing the end user, the armchair engineer, or aerospace or basically the aeronautical community that was involved in what is the infancy of aerobatics.  So we decided to have a little stakeholder meeting.  Little did we realize those 12 weeks later that 12,000 people would show up to the L.A. Sports Arena for the very first expo.  It was called the Los Angeles Drone Expo at that time.  After that happened, we realized that we would have to have something on a global scale.  We partnered up with an organization that is an international expo and business conference organization called E.J. Krause. We are now at the L.A. Convention Center and we are expecting about 10,000 people a day from all over the world.  We have a professional business conference that is co-located with the expo.  Really a science expo with universities from all over the world.  We are going to have fantastic, different types of disciplines.  It is going to be an incredible gathering.  I am very excited, because of the people I have been talking to on the phone.  I am really, really excited about this.

Enrico:  People do not understand that if you put 10,000 people at any expo that is just a massive number.  It shows how much interest there is in commercial drone use and how much people are starved for information about commercial drone use and the different applications that there are for drone usage.  One of things I saw on your website was amazing and great was that we all know about the obvious things in drone usage like taking videos and pictures and maybe gathering some data if you have a more sophisticated pay load. But really, within these industry sectors of agriculture or closed film production or  even real estate, oil rig inspection there is so much innovation that it is going so far past the capturing a video on the software side, etc.  This conference is really going to drive towards those applications in terms of education people.  So tell us a little about that part of the conference and what people can expect when they come.

Keith:  So, some of the professors and scientists that we have they are going to be engaging in the conference are going to be discussing the everything from Geo special imaging down to different types of delivery of pesticides and agriculture.  So you touched on a lot of things that are involved. Now what is the most fascinating about this is that we also have to think about the different sides of security and the different sides of hyperactivity.  As well as if they are monitoring or the different types of applications that are going to be developed not only for transportation of goods and services, but also for data and also for the traffic systems that has been deployed, because we are really dealing with the new part of the general aviation.  You think about general aviation and we have been down this road before as far as integrating aviation into the air space for mankind, but we are basically dealing with a different airspace.  There is something called AGL.  Basically that means Air to Ground Level.  Now the AGL from 0-400 feet is considered and has been considered a past through altitude by aircraft either on takeoff or landing.  This is an entirely new air space that we are integrating right now.  That is from 0-400 feet and that is the domain of aerobatics.

Enrico:  Right and we’ve got to figure that air space out and make it safe and figure out how to best use it and handle the traffic that will be occurring in that airspace.  The thing that I think is so fascinating is how involved the industry is itself in figuring out that puzzle and not waiting for the regulatory aspect to figure it out. Because quite honestly they may never figure it out.  The industry itself has to take the lead here and it has and it has been quite stunning regarding the innovation that has occurred.

Keith:  I think the wonderful thing about the airspace community, in general, not only that the aerospace community that was the forefathers like the Wright brothers in a lot of different European companies that came about at the same time.  Moving into the aerospace industry including the aerospace that we know as space travel, we’ve done a very good job of self-regulation. The reason why the self-regulation is so paramount for the safety of mankind in the aerial activity and the aerospace in general. You also see that as well with Maritime.  Whenever anything leaves terraform and we are dealing with something that has the potential not to be safe for humans the folks that are involved with it tend to be fairly secure with it.  We have to educate those that do not make the connection.  The difference between aerobatics and the tradition of aerospace and aeronautics that we go with really have to specifically do with the virtual experience of flight versus the physical experience of flight.  So that the suspension of the physical sensation of flight creates a type of feeling of safety that is actually false, because you have an aircraft in the air that could potentially fall on a person or property. Part of this integration and understanding and one of things about the conference is that the people that have been driving this industry also need to drive the education and public outreach to our lawmakers and to our general public – to help them to understand the potential and incredible potential of good that this has for mankind.

Enrico:  Right, it is true. The amount of good that can come from drone use safety and helping you know do jobs that people perhaps should not be doing, because they are unsafe.  As we see more of this evolve, we see examples of this. We will see a lot more adoption.  Tell me Keith, who should be attending this conference?  If you had to say, “Hey look at it.  Here are the categories of who people who need to look at coming and find a way to make it there.”
Who are those people?

Keith:  I would say it’s anyone that’s an entrepreneurial that is excited about a new business. This is the largest gateway to an aviation business at the most economical cost that man has ever seen.  You really should attend the business conference. And also, individuals that are of experience that are in the community, that have been involved, that have been active and attending all of those different types of events that are out there.  This is going to be at a scale never seen before. I mean really literally have delegations from every continent.  It has been incredible the interest.  Just this morning I had, its call the SHK which is the organization that is like the PBS of Japan?  I think I got the acronym right. I hope I got the acronym right.  I am sure you guys will let me know about it.

Enrico:  We will figure it out.  Right?

Keith:  But literally every news agency across the globe. Every organization across the globe that is involved in sUAS is having a presence and is physically going to be there.  It’s unbelievable.

Enrico:  And it is. I always tell people I was there at the very beginning of the internet and watching it all happening way before Yahoo and Google.  I tell people, they think I am nuts, but I say look it this is the next biggest thing since the Internet. You watch and it does deal with some of the issues that you touched on.  It is really the accessibility of the technology which is just maybe just a little less accessible than a Smartphone, but in that category and there were a lot more things to figure out in the internet space than there are in the sUAS space. Here we’ve got safety.  We have this airspace issue.  We have to figure out some of the regulations, but that actually is less complex than some of the things that were coming down the pipe in the early days in the internet.  Of course, there was no commercial. You remember you couldn’t be commercial in the internet in the 90’s, because that was heresy.  You weren’t going to make business off the internet.  You are going to make money. That was unethical.  Right?  So, all that changed over time.

Keith:  People were terrified.

Enrico:  Yes.

Keith:  People were terrified to spend money.  Oh my God, buy something off the internet.

Enrico:  Here’s the deal.  One of the fascinating things that I always love is that ummm you know Nikola Tesla who was there to help, you know roll out electricity for mankind and was an amazing inventor.  People do not realize what his connection to unmanned system.  I think this is a great piece of trivia.

Keith:  So there were a few individuals that were involved with the different transfers of energy.  Uh, at the turn of the 20th Century.  This really started and Tesla, was one of the folks who was on the forefront that was also Marconi and there were a few other scientists that were working on this at the time.  It had to do with the transfer of radio waves and energy wireless.

Enrico:  Yup.

Keith:  And one of the things that Nikola Tesa discovered, along with some other folks, was the ability to actuate uh attenuators – very large sets of switches – we see and use in robotics today.  We built one of the first, uh, nautical drones, or ah you know actual wireless boats.

Enrico:  Great.

Keith:  Nautilus drone that was demonstrated for the Navy in 1880. And people didn’t believe it.  They thought it was fake.  It was heresy. It was one of those situations where it was something that was 100 years before its time.

Enrico:  Remote control boat.

Keith:  Yeah. He is really one of the fathers of robotics.  The other thing to talk about, that people do not realize, is that the invention of AC current or what we call alternate current is really the basis for computer science at its most at its most basic core.  Let’s remember that.  What we call packet delivery.  That really is something that you know that one man or at least we can’t give Nikola all of the credit, but it was a movement at the time.  It was just literally this man that perfected AC current.  He was the one who that did that that created the first actual electric network in our entire energy grid from the flow.

Enrico: Yeah and so it makes sense that Teslo would be involved in SUAS, because that you cross so many different levels from the batteries to the electrical aspect and the radio waves on to your essentially the namesake of the you know the Tesla motors. And it was pretty exciting to see that is one of the innovating companies that’s helping to support the community. So let me ask you Keith, if we were to take a look at the state of the industry which is so early in its cycle.  But if were to look at the state of the industry right now, what is the most important thing that we need to have occur from a technology standpoint and a regulator standpoint and user standpoint to see the next iteration of this industry.

Keith: Well, from current technology, I think that the people that are working on the drones really have to develop ubiquitous system or some type of operating system for ah air traffic matters. Now there is a project going on, I do not know if you are familiar with it at NASA called the Unmanned Traffic Module System.  It is eventually going to, eventually, integrate into the next integration of our Air Traffic Module system. But I think that ah the technologists can do a lot of this already and some of them have.  Some of the big ah manufacturers have done a great job with geo-fencing with the different controllers.  And I think that they continue to have that response and continue to be the leaders in this and not wait for legislation. Now on the legislative front, I think that lawmakers need to realize that this is general aviation and stop creating new laws and look at the existing aviation laws and they need to amend those laws and include the AGL 0-400 or 500 feet for commercial use. But they need to do this and be aggressive.  Stop trying to grab headlines and create new laws we do not need.  It’s already illegal to hover over somebody’s property with an aircraft.  That’s called trespassing.

Enrico:  Right.

Keith:  And an attorney like yourself know that.

Enrico:  Exactly.

Keith:  So you know that.  For the end user or the entrepreneur you know.  Go out and educate yourself.  Be part of the public policy discussion.  You know the first time a drone finds a lost kid we are not going to have these issues.  Everybody’s going to want them.  They are going to do a lot of things with them.

Enrico:  Do some good with your drone.  Be sensitive to the people who are there.  Stay away from people and be respectful of private property.  It’s all common sense stuff.  Of course the video and the pictures that are captured are amazing to everyone.  We all know that when you go out to a place to fly your drone, the overwhelming reaction is “check that out”.  Right?  That’s a very vocal minority of privacy concerns, but the vast majority of people want to see these things fly and they are amazed by them and the things they can do. Really the price point to me is under $3,000 under $2,000 for a really sophisticated piece of equipment. I do not understand it that’s stunning to me.

Keith:  It is.  It’s amazing. And and the funny thing about all of this we also have to remember that ah that this is how man deals with the now.  Ok? Technology you discover something.  Let’s just use ah fire as an example.  It’s a secret.  It’s owned by only those can only harness that power.  They use it as a weapon.  You know firing fireballs at the battlefields, but then as it becomes ah something that becomes less expensive as an entry point.  Just imagine you know, I think that airplanes, if you look at how all of this has gone down, it’s probably the most incredible gateway that peace and understanding that globe has ever seen and now with advent of the internet.  You and I are having a conversation across the continent and this is how technology when it begins to masa ate or I call it the matriculate.  From what is a very difficult and expensive task to one that becomes just a utility.  We see incredible business structure.  Well, we have to talk about that.  But incredible amount of good it ends up doing for mankind.  It empowers the individual. It empowers civil liberty.  That’s the part we were talking about responsibility. That’s so vital.  As the user you have to realize that you are operating an aircraft it an incredible opportunity and incredible right.  It is also a responsibility.

Enrico: Exactly.  Exactly.  Well, Keith Caplin, it has been real pleasure to have you on the show today. Everyone, you need to get to the IDE Conference in Los Angeles at the L.A. Convention Center.  It is just an amazing place if you have never been there.  It’s December 11th and 12th.  It’s probably gonna be the biggest thing by far we have ever seen in commercial drone in terms of gathering of people.  And if you are not there, you will never be able to give that experience up.  So, get yourself there.  I know that I am coming off vacation and will find my way there.  I will say hi when I see you Keith.  Have a great evening.  I really appreciate you being on the show.

Keith:  Thank you so much Enrico.  And for everyone out there keep flying safe.



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