A discussion panel, presented this Spring by distributor Stampede during its Big Book of AV Tour New York City event in conjunction with InfoComm, took on the topic of UAVs—Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, more commonly known as drones—a topic bigger and more wide-ranging than one might think. The world of drones and the realm of possibilities it presents for dealers looking to get a foothold in this newest of categories was explored from multiple perspectives touching on its technologies, applications, and legal ramifications and requirements.
Since applications range from hobbyist photography to cinematography to life-saving—and price points for the hardware range from a couple of hundred dollars into the five figures—nailing down just what is driving the 2015 drone market proved somewhat of a challenge for panelists in the single hour allotted to the discussion. However, all agreed that the category is at least worth a serious look by both traditional CE dealers and commercial A/V integrators.
“We sell a tremendous amount of entry-level product,” Stampede president and COO Kevin Kelly remarked to Dealerscope. “Get familiar with the hobbyist end of the spectrum; get familiar with brands like DJI; that’s a wonderful place to get started, and a place to start merchandising those products today. The next step would be the light commercial space. The idea is to eventually go beyond retail with the category, because the applications will only grow. People haven’t leant their imaginations to drones much beyond military. But there are significant opportunities for retail merchandising and beyond. It’s a natural for our traditional integrator base, which already knows video—so they have a head start.”
TJ Diaz, president and CEO of drone manufacturer XFLY Systems, stressed the importance of establishing the use case of the drone when matching customer to product. The payload, or sensor, the drone is carrying—which could be “anything from a GoPro camera to a broadcast camera”—would factor into the calculation of propulsion, amount of time needed in-air, etc. He also alluded to drones’ functionality for the film business, stating that drones can now stream 4K content wirelessly and that “that capability is growing by the quarter.”
Eric Jameson, CTO of Drone VAR and a former Air Force intelligence officer, said that drones need to be viewed as “an extension of the A/V space.” He enumerated various usages for sophisticated drones beyond cinematography that, when employed, can save lives and money—for example, using a drone to search for a missing dementia patient versus deploying a helicopter, or for taking sensor readings in a wildfire to determine “hot spots” without risking the lives of firefighting personnel, or for bank surveillance. “There are lots of people vying for [the A/V] space, “ he told the audience. “This is an A/V world; it represents an untethered video source out there—an extension of the A/V space, and you guys should really own it.”