welcome to commercial drones fm the podcast that explores the commercial drone industry the people who power it and the concepts that drive it I'm your host Ian Smith hey everybody Ian here coming at you from the commercial UAV Expo 2018 in Las Vegas Nevada I've got a very special guest with me today someone I've been trying to get on the podcast for ages and a part of a company as well who I've been trying to get on that I've known for quite some time we've got Mariah Scott she is the president of skyward a Verizon company and they're based out of Portland Oregon so welcome to the show Mariah thank you I'm excited to be here well thank you so much for for taking the time I know you're busy at the expo so we'll make this one short and sweet but before we get into kind of the normal podcast routine and questions and these kinds of things tell us a little bit about yourself your background and how did you get into the drone industry well I've been in the drone industry for about four years actually I think today might be my four year anniversary of joining skyward congratulations yeah and I mean when I came in using drones for commercial purposes was illegal so it's kind of crazy to think about that but but it was and most of my background is actually in enterprise software and I really like regulated markets and drones were such an amazing opportunity to take what I knew about working in regulated markets and making it easy for people to use a new technology combined with all this incredible potential to really transform the way businesses work mm-hmm and so skyward started about four years ago or roughly Jonathan Evans who's the founder of skyward I think he started it in 2012 actually and I joined in 2014 when Voyager Capital who was our initial venture capital Thunder initially funded the company I came in as the CEO and we ramped the company from there we were acquired by Verizon in 2016 20 so yeah it's about a year and a half ago 2017 maybe yes 2017 see time flies time flies when you're having fun exactly it's I think that drones are kind of like dog years you know where you think four years ago really but it seems like when I think about where the industry was or even just two years ago or six months ago it's growing so quickly it is it is and so okay so tell us then like what is skyward then what does it do so there's definitely people a lot of them are listening to this and they know what skyward is but maybe you can give us like a little bit like of background like what is the what is skyward like why was it created and and what does it do for for customers we were created because we we saw the intersection of the potential of the technology the difficulty of easily adopting the technology and we said hey there's an opportunity here these drones are going to be aircrafts they're gonna be aircraft they're gonna need to integrate with the other aircraft that are already out there it's going to need to be safe but that doesn't mean it can't be really innovative so we said about how do we make it easy for commercial customers to adopt the technology to use it in their business to know where they can fly and safely access the airspace and manage all the complexity of running a drone program mm-hmm and that's like fleet management its operational stuff as well so what that looks like from a product point of view is we have software and services that help companies manage their drone program manage their fleet manage their people their workflow track all the information you need to track manage your compliance whether that's operational compliance with your corporate policies and procedures or regulatory compliance and then we provide safe access to the airspace we were the first lance provider we've been doing that for a little over a year now and that has really opened up a lot of controlled airspace and given our customers the ability to fly in more places that's what it's about yeah and the Lance rollout is finally complete across the entire US yes super super exciting it's been it's been really neat to see how much Lance has accelerated our customers ability to do business to just use the drones in more places in more ways and I guess you guys are seeing since you're a what is that a USS service supplier u.s. unmanned service unmanned service so this is the hardest one for me there's too many acronyms yeah you guys are one of those we are a service provider for Lance there you go yeah of like people using Lance and so has it been like has it met your expectations like I was just doing a podcast with Colin snow right before you so he has all this data that he's looking at it wasn't Lance specific but it's about just like interesting data points that he pulled out from his latest report but are you seeing like what you kind of expected are you surprised are you satisfied with like how you feel that the industry is adopting and using Lance I think it has been what we expected but we had really high expectations yeah we knew from working with customers that lack of easy access to controlled airspace was a big barrier to taking jobs and executing jobs we had customers who had contracts that they couldn't fulfill with drones because they couldn't get access to the airspace so we knew that there was a lot of pent up demand and we knew that people were struggling through like 90 days to get approval or and I think we have definitely seen that increase in flights increase in operations increase in people growing their fleets and adding more pilots it's definitely changed the arc of growth and so you I was actually just asking like doing a sound check before we started recording and so you're not just interested and passionate about regulated markets you are somewhat you were somewhat of an aviation enthusiast yourself so you fly paraglider or what do you fly I am on the paragliding plan I like I like aircraft yeah I mean I have a 107 license I fly a drone that's fantastic it's fun but about a year and a half ago I learned to paraglide which is an amazing feeling that is a a pure joy of flight it's purely unpowered it's just floating around you just fly off the top of a mountain and you're up there while the Sun goes down over the Cascades it's incredible all you Portland people are so in touch with nature no no that sounds amazing that's really cool I just wanted to call that point out so one of the things that I think okay we have to talk about it and I've been waiting and everyone was like what the heck is going on here why did for like why did Verizon acquire skyward so just setting the the stage here people were unkind noticeably I'm sure like kind of like confused like what does Verizon want with a drone you know company that focuses on operations and everything this seems very under Eisen you know like so what's the deal here like tell us a little bit about the background of the acquisition and the plan like what was the purpose for this and and what are you guys working towards sure what the funny thing is that when when we were independent when we were out raising funds as a you know small startup out there in Portland we used to talk about how we saw drones as part of a network and we thought that they would be managed as a network that in order to reach the real potential of being able to have these sophisticated automated deployments they had to be on a network and we would talk about how we wanted to be the verizon of drones and then we ended up as the drones of Verizon so the thing there's two aspects from Verizon's point of view that we saw a lot of just synergy with one is the network so in order for drones to really reach that potential of being able to securely safely reliably fly beyond line of sight fly in remote deployments and that there has to be a network for connectivity and Verizon has the nation's most reliable network so that's a huge synergy from our point of view and from Verizon's point of view they are always looking for more devices to manage on that network they manage millions of cellphones they have a huge IOT division drones are another type of device to manage on the new flying IOT flying IOT flying cell phones there's different ways to think about that the other thing for Verizon is that they actually have a really large fleet management division and then we're part of that division it's called Verizon connect and a few years ago they acquired telogen and FleetMatics which were big SAS providers of commercial connected fleet management software fleets like we're not talking let our planes we're talking ground-based fleets gotcha so commercial trucking utility vehicles I think construction mining engineering insurance so all these vehicles are connected to the network all these Veet place all these businesses where you have fleets whether those are cars light trucks big trucks Sammy's so if Verizon has a huge commercial connected fleet management software group yeah and they looked at us and they said hey we're already managing these connected fleets on the ground let's figure out how we can manage connected fleets up in the sky and that's what we do so awesome so there was a lot of great complimentary tech and just complimentary customer base because many of our customers in construction engineering mining insurance they do have air fleets and they have ground fleets now we've got a combination of connected software that can manage all of those deployments very well said I think that of the layman in like me I had no idea about this I knew kind of what you were gonna say after we've talked you know throughout the there at the time since the acquisition and stuff but like I had no idea that Verizon was that like that was another aspect of their business so that's really cool and it's did when you think about that then it starts to make a lot of sense so again belated congratulations on that today's episode is brought to you by Kitty Hawk IO the enterprise solution for drone operations management available on the web iOS Android and DJ eyes crystal sky operating a successful commercial drone program doesn't have to involve a ton of tools and time making them talk to each other with Kitty Hawk you can manage your aircraft operators in airspace all from a single unified platform managers can use Kitty Hawk to monitor their fleet assigned missions and effortlessly track compliance your pilots fly in the Kitty Hawk app with safety and compliance settings that you customize based on your company's needs there's even an API to make integrating Kitty Hawk into your workflows easy and automatic visit Kitty Hawk dot IO to learn more this episode of commercial drones FM is brought to you by FLIR pretty much everyone in the commercial drone world knows about FLIR's thermal imaging technologies and may even have a basic understanding of how their sensors work at commercial drones fm we think this technology is deserving of the spotlight to reveal some of the 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presentations and whatnot oh yeah so you guys are calling so UTM another acronym here you guys are calling or an initialism rather you guys are calling UTM universal traffic management when like our normal way of thinking of it is like a UAS traffic management or unmanned so tell us this a little bit about your thoughts there and like how does this so now we've set the stage of like the Verizon and everything so how does this all kind of come together like what is the future then that you're going towards with this big Verizon network and how is this gonna work well I had the opportunity to testify a few weeks ago before the house aviation subcommittee and it was a hearing on the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace and it was a really interesting insight to kind of what the FAA and what the government is grappling with and thinking about they know they need to encourage innovation they know they need to encourage drones and they need to protect safety and the sort of integrity of the airspace so that I talked in that testimony about the concept of universal traffic management and that this is we shouldn't think about we're gonna have one system for drones we're gonna have one system for aircraft and we're gonna have one system for flying car passenger drone vehicle things right like they're all aircraft they're all going to be in the airspace and you're a helicopter pilot you know that the helicopters already fly where the drones fly and that's where those passenger drone aircraft are going to also fly so you need one set of interoperable systems it's not going to be a monolithic system but it does need to be a universal system so that we think about what are the standards what are the technical standards what's the regulatory framework that will allow us to safely integrate all of these types of aircraft whether they have a pilot or they don't have a pilot doesn't matter as much as they all need to share that public airspace so we need a universal traffic management system we need to think about that concept in that way rather than a set of discrete different things that may not talk to each other and I know Jonathan Evans it could geek out and nerd out about this all day I mean he is just such an accomplished pilot himself with so much experience and he's on the good MA the global UTM Association yes and he participates in all that stuff so like skyward is is really heavily invested in this and so what does this culminate into them like okay we you guys participated in these these associations and and testifying how does it come together you guys going to like building a platform maybe for this to like kind of sprout up and you know be able to be used or what is this well kind of I mean our you know we're already providing access to the airspace through Lance mm-hmm so I I really encourage people to try to think about it this is an incremental set of steps UTM whether it's Universal traffic management or something else it's a concept it's a system of systems it's not a thing that you build and then it's there you know it's like the internet it's gonna grow up over time and we'll take specific steps towards that but from skywards point of view what we really want to see is global interoperability we want to see technical standards that are interoperable that will allow innovation allow a level playing field allow lots of parties to contribute and create a really safe reliable system around Universal traffic management so we're looking for common regulatory frameworks so we don't have a patchwork of different rules right yeah and then we're looking for common global interoperable standards and I think about a lot about healthcare IT I spent time and healthcare IT before I came to drones that's a place where you don't have global operon our operability you don't have global standards and it's really difficult for innovation and it has become really difficult to drive safety as well can you give like an exit like what in that industry like what is something that think about if you went overseas and something happened to you no one in any Hospital you checked into it have any idea what your medical record was or even if you had insurance or any background of you huh but you would expect if you went to a financial system that you can put your debit card in any ATM anywhere in the world right and it'll work because in financial services we have global interoperable technical standards we need to think about UTM in the same way because we have the chance to build it now so we're really invested in the industry groups in working with the regulatory groups because we want to see a system where we have technical standards where if you've got a drone in the US and you want to dispatch it from Europe you can do that and you know it's gonna work and it's going to be safe and that's that's the end goal for us that's really interesting that's and like you say that's a long time excuse me a long term project to work on it's very incremental I mean part one of seven was one thing but now we have to work towards that that reality and I think that'll probably enable a lot more use cases as well because they'll be certifiable like oh yeah potentials potentially like hey this network is certified as being very reliable you can connect to it and do like maybe XYZ beyond visual line of sight operation or absolutely where we're going as Verizon is is working to connect the drones to the network to seek the certification that we would need to prove the safety case around that network connectivity for LTE as a conduit for beyond line of sight or more complex operations but the standards and the global interoperability work goes hand in glove with that because we're doing that work as part of GSMA as part of 3gpp these are all the telco these are the telco my eyes are like what is this these are the telco acronyms this is how the global telecom industry comes together to agree on their standards for safe communications and for security and reliability so we're bringing the work with UAS into those forums and then the work that Jonathan's doing driving guma which is a global industry standards organization looking to promote drones specific technical standards around things like registration and flight declaration and identification and safe you know all the these bedrock principles that you need if you're going to have an interoperable system Wow lots of work to be done but if anyone still had questions as to the whole variety that like the whole Verizon acquisition that like seals the deal right there that makes so much sense so no one has any any questions about that anymore you are not allowed after listening to this so anything new then what like okay that's like the few that's like a far far future and it's like a huge huge challenge to overcome and I'm sure that industry will appreciate all the the effort that goes into that once you know there's more results to show but anything more like immediate like do you guys have any news or anything that you want to announce I don't know well what we're focused on right now is trying to solve problems for people who are running drone programs today so how can we help them automate the workflow how can we help them get safe access to more airspace just make it easier and more efficient to run a safe program so those are features like in-flight which is our new ground control station so that we can automate the workflow from the office where you're doing your pre-flight planning getting your lance authorizations out to the field when you dispatch that job to someone who's going to fly it now they have all the tools they need in the field to safely run that mission when you say ground control station you just mean it's software right it's not like a physical okay software and then and that is seamlessly integrated back into the cloud into the office application so that your program administrator can get all the information back get their reporting it's you know this is a thing or its it's not the most glamorous but it is like the meat and potatoes of how do you run a safe and efficient drone program and make it easier and more automated while still ensuring safety yeah no yeah totally it's a it's not as exciting as talking about going beyond line of sight on a global network but it's absolutely important to helping our customers today figure out how do I Drive ROI from this how do I make sure I'm getting the full potential of these drones that I've invested so much time and effort and training my team and and trying to figure out how to use them and we're really committed to that mission today helping our customers run better programs and speaking of your customers are there any customers you can like talk about like that may be interesting that you that have like a cool case study that have been using skyward and kind of you know yeah there we have a lot we have a lot of customers in construction and engineering that's where we're really focused Hensel Phelps has been you know a big drone proponent and a big user of skyward for a number of years and we have several case studies with them we also just recently announced our work with the Southern Company which is a large utility company in the south and they're going to be using drones for inspecting infrastructure and working today with their operations and then helping them also go beyond line of sight as well yeah I imagine that they probably have like miles and miles of power line corridor transmission corridor and things like that to inspect you actually and for the southern company disaster response is actually a really big use case so when the hurricanes hit you know they're learning how to use drones and deploy drones in places where they can't send ground crews in and it's too expensive to fly helicopters yeah so it's a great use case we actually helped Verizon coordinate its hurricane response to Hurricane Florence over the last a couple of weeks and our flight operations director ran the disaster response for the dispatching planning and dispatching both manned and unmanned flights using skyward for all of Verizon's infrastructure awesome well very cool it looks like we're running out of time here so just want to thank you so much for being on the show Mariah it's great to have had you once again mariah is the president of skyward Mariah Scott and actually if someone wants to learn more like do you guys have like a blog and like webinars I'm imagining or just skyward I is the word IO is the website we do regular webinars and those are all promoted on the website so I oh cool Chuck out skyward IO folks if you want to learn more and check out what they're up to they do all kinds of webinars and stuff so mariah once again thank you so much for being here thank you it was fun it was so my pleasure hopefully we don't have a hurricane Mariah anytime soon I hope not I'll get in touch with you if we see one on the radar so alright folks we are gonna cut off the mics Cheers you
Why did Verizon, a $30+ billion telecommunications company, acquire Skyward, a 4-year-old drone startup out of Portland? Mariah Scott, President of Skyward, joins Ian to discuss exactly that—the decision behind the Verizon acquisition, her thoughts on the direction of the drone industry in 2019, and why the future of UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) is so critical.
“UTM is a concept—it’s a system of systems. It’s like the internet, it’s going to grow up over time. From Skyward’s point of view, what we really want to see is global interoperability.” – Mariah Scott, President, Skyward, A Verizon Company