Where the Drones Are Already Working

Harsh Arctic conditions are an ideal environment for unmanned systems -- keeping human operators out of danger.

Rex Moore
Rex Moore
Apr 11, 2014 at 11:11AM

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, or AUVSI, is the world's largest nonprofit dedicated to advancing unmanned systems and robotics, and serves thousands of members. Motley Fool analyst Rex Moore was able to chat with AUVSI president Michael Toscano, a leading expert in the field, about the future of drone deliveries -- such as Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) is proposing -- and other applications of the technology.

In this video segment Toscano explains that the technology is already being employed in non-military, commercial use by Boeing (NYSE:BA) and AeroVironment (NASDAQ:AVAV), among others.

A full transcript follows the video.

Michael Toscano: We've already had a commercial application, up in the Arctic. There's another great place; the Arctic is one of those difficult places to do things, for the most part, because of the weather conditions and whatnot.

When you look at it from a wildlife standpoint, unmanned systems lend themselves tremendously for us to be able to explore whether it be mother nature -- weather -- or whether it be wildlife, whether it be things that we were never able to do before, but now we can because we don't put a human being at risk in doing this.

If you look at some of the statistics of how many people are killed and injured, trying to follow the migration path of the polar bear or the penguins or something like that, the numbers are pretty staggering in that regard. Well, now we can do these things in a much more effective, efficient, and safe way.

In the Arctic, they have utilized two UASs to do oil exploration and wildlife monitoring.

Rex Moore: AeroVironment (NASDAQ: AVAV)...

Toscano: AeroVironment was one of those, and so was Boeing (NYSE:BA) Insitu. Insitu and AeroVironment were the two that they used. Those were the systems. They used the Puma, and they used ...

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Moore: Boeing (NYSE:BA) Scan Eagle.

Toscano: Scan Eagle, thank you very much -- it's been a long day!

There is a case where we've already had a successful operation. Again, if you can do it once, now we can do it multiple times and we can do it even safer as we go forward in the future.

This is a learning experience. I believe the FAA is going to take a crawl-walk-run. You look at what Jeff and Amazon put out there; they were at the run stage. They were at the run stage, saying, "This thing is going to be autonomous, it's going to go off line-of-sight, and it's going to go do this whole, from A to Z, in less than 30 minutes."

That's what we want to get to, but we've got a ways to get there. I believe Charlie Rose made the statement, "So, is this 10 years out?" and Jeff made the comment, "Well, I'm a very optimistic person and I'm hoping that we can do it in the next four to five years," so that's looking at the 2018, 2020 timeframe.

I know there are aspects of that low-hanging fruit that I alluded to earlier, where we can do that in that timeframe. I think these are going to exciting times. If I had one wish, I wish I was 20 years younger, because this is going to be a very interesting time, and I think a very exciting time.