VP Marketing at Echodyne Corp
Hello, my dear readers! Welcome to yet another exciting edition of UAV Interview Series.
Today our guest of honor is Leo McCloskey who is the VP Marketing at Echodyne Corp.
He is such a nice person to have a chat, and it is our pleasure to have him here for an exclusive interview.
Echodyne is known for its high-performance, innovative radars for commercial markets and government.
They recently announced that their EchoGuard radars were a ground-based sensor to the first-ever drone mission to fly beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flight with no ground observers.
In this interview, we talk with McCloskey in-depth about Echodyne company & their products, collaboration with Iris Automation for pioneering drone flight, why BVLOS technology is the next big thing, tips for new pilots, future of drone industry, and so on.
All these information are too useful to ignore so sit back and enjoy this interview. Let’s get started without wasting any further time!
Tell us about yourself. How did you get enthusiastic about drone technology?
Drones represent a potentially radical change in delivery and transportation. Like manned aircraft, drones should have the ability to sense their environment and avoid collisions.
When market leaders like Amazon seriously consider how this can change their delivery business model, companies take notice.
Our radar technology is ideally suited to enabling machine perception for safe remotely operated or autonomous machine operation.
Echodyne is a nearly five-year-old technology startup born on the idea that a breakthrough material invention, our metamaterials antenna design called MESA™ (Metamaterials Electronic Scanning Array), can disrupt multiple markets and enable a range of new government and commercial applications.
Our initial focus is on two-fold – creating radar for drone missions to operate with a safety-first mindset and helping sensitive government and commercial facilities maintain security against drone overflight.
Tell us about a few of the products/drones you manufacture and design. What is your best seller?
The biggest seller is our EchoGuard radar, providing high-performance ground-based radars for both extended UAS missions and 3D surveillance of ground and air domains.
It is the first actual electronically scanning array (ESA) radar, the type of radar used by airports and militaries across the world, that comes in a compact, solid-state, commercially priced format.
Organizations building large commercial UAS are also interested in our airborne radar, EchoFlight. The market for airborne sensors depends on regulations that have yet to be defined, so this is a market that is only slowly maturing.
Tell us about Iris Automation and Echodyne collaboration to ensure the security of very first BVLOS flight with no human observers?
The designers and leaders of this linear inspection UAV demonstration are the UAS team at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). Their extraordinary efforts to define a challenging mission requiring integration of ground and airborne sensors and receive FAA approval created this opportunity.
Iris Automation’s onboard sensor was an excellent complement for Echodyne’s ground-based radar, so that even as the drone would descend into a valley and sense more clutter, the radar data was able to confirm deconflicted airspace and ensure smooth flight operations.
What is the market for Beyond Visual Line of Sight UAS operation currently? How has it evolved since you launched your business?
The demand for real BVLOS is broadly based, with several industries looking to long-distance drone flights as meaningful to their business operations.
The regulatory environment to support business ambition is not there yet, unfortunately, leading to several plans that cannot be realized right now.
Flight demonstrations, like the Alaska pipeline inspection operated by UAF, are essential in giving both industry and regulators the confirmation that such UAS missions can be conducted safely.
You stated demonstration of an almost 4-mile BVLOS linear inspection operation over the Trans-Alaska pipeline was conducted and designed. Excellent! How did you handle that!?
It was the UAS team at UAF that is responsible for this great project. We support several UAS test sites and their flight demonstration, which we believe is crucial for demonstrating that high-performance radar is essential if safety is the mission hallmark. That the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company participated further shows a significant commercial interest in unmanned flight.
What tips do you have for others who wish to start flying drones?
It only takes a few poorly managed flights to cause problems that delay approval for so many other drone companies. Most important is that the rules for unmanned flight be well understood and followed properly.
For a company or person who is looking at beyond the operator’s sight operation, what tips do you have to find the correct product?
The mission parameters need to be clear upfront, with significant research and tests of the airborne and/or ground platforms and sensors that will ensure safe operations.
Such mission definition makes it simpler for sensor and software companies to apply their technologies to a detailed concept of operations (ConOps).
What developments in drone tech are you looking forward?
The same sort of technologies that excite the drone industry tends to frighten the security industry. Our role is the expert in sensor technologies and how these apply to business objectives.
What’s probably most exciting is how many companies and industries have plans to use drones as an extension of their business operations.
We believe the broader drone industry will be slow to gain altitude and, when it does, companies like Echodyne that have been participating across so many experiments and initiatives will be well-positioned for tremendous growth.
Each of the NASA and FAA UAS test sites is exploring something different, which we support as a well-rounded approach to launching significant volumes of unmanned aircraft into future skies.
The recent mission in Alaska is memorable for being the first FAA-approved real BVLOS flight, but there are so many creative talents thinking about UAS missions and security that it would be difficult to choose just one.
Our Part 107 pilots fly demonstration flights to exercise the radar’s capabilities and, to date, they have not crashed a drone! 😎
What do you fly right now? What is inside your drone gear?
We operate a Phantom 4, Mavic Pro, and Matrice 600, all from DJI, and have just launched our newest fixed-wing addition, an E-flite Opterra 2m.
What are a few of the most creative ways you have seen drones getting used?
Many of the innovative uses we’ve seen have been on the security front, where the drone mission was not exactly legal.
Drone flights moving so quickly from operators with both radio-frequency communication and visual line of sight to flying solely by optical waypoints is pushing the boundaries for security against drones.
Once the regulations are in place to permit business objectives like long-distance pipeline, power line, or rail inspections, we expect to see a number of novel drone uses.
Where do you find drones in the next five to ten years?
I’m hopeful that urban transportation has both realistic airborne as ground-based alternatives but think the widespread adoption of drones for IoT/IIOT objectives is much more likely.
Many complain of the slowness in developing and adopting regulations that promote growth.
On balance, maintaining safety while the industry matures is probably the right speed.
Integrating unmanned aerial system into the national airspace is a very complex undertaking.