“I’m hoping that with the new Administration, along with the end of the pandemic and the resumption of business confidence, we will see progress on all these issues and adoption in 2021 will reflect not only a confident embrace of the drones as part of standard practice across a range of industries, but also pent-up demand from the past two years.“
– Chris Anderson, 3DR
Learn more at: https://3drobotics.com/
Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics
3D Robotics was founded in 2009 as a drone manufacturer. Over the years, the company switched its focus to software and developed SiteScan, which was then sold to Esri. What is 3D Robotics’ core business today?
Chris Anderson (3DR): We’re focused on getting FAA Type Certification for the 3DR H520-G drone (developed with Yuneec) to be used for airport inspection, which is a highly regulated airspace. That’s the point of getting a TC — to be able to fly in highly-regulated airspace. A TC confers “airworthiness”, which in conjunction with an approved operating plan (“ConOps”), can give blanket approval to fly within kinds of airspace defined by that ConOps. In our case, that starts with airports but can be extended to other infrastructure, including beyond visual-line-of-sight and one-to-many pilot/vehicle ratios (up to 20)
Why has 3D Robotics shifted its business focus from manufacturing to software development, and now to its current core business? What were the problems that finalized the decision to change focus?
Chris Anderson (3DR): We exited our own hardware production in 2016, back when the FAA only allowed recreational use of drones (before Part 107 was created). In the consumer market, it’s all about price and we didn’t see a way to compete profitably with DJI. Had we been in that situation five years later (ie, now), where commercial use is allowed (with the better margins that come with that) and DJI is prohibited from many US markets, the picture would have been different. But you can lose a lot of money competing unprofitably for five years, so we chose not to do so and pivoted to SaaS software, which had far better unit economics.
How has your business handled the coronavirus pandemic and in which areas did you face the biggest challenges?
Chris Anderson (3DR): Since we sold most of the business to ESRI at the end of 2019, this has not been a problem for us
In which industry verticals does your company focus on currently?
Chris Anderson (3DR): Drone inspection in markets that require FAA Type Certification, which includes:
- Beyond visual-line-of-sight
- Flight over people
- Night flight
- More than one drone per operator
What do you consider the biggest challenge for your business in the drone market?
Chris Anderson (3DR): The pace of regulatory reform. Between the pandemic, the lack of clarity over technology made in China and delays in key FAA regs, including both the D&R TC process and Remote ID, 2020 was a year of stasis in the US drone industry in terms of adoption. In the absence of clear paths forward on China and moving beyond Part 107, customers across the board stayed in pilot project mode longer and are waiting for these key questions to be answered before scaling up their fleets and operations. I’m hoping that with the new Administration, along with the end of the pandemic and the resumption of business confidence, we will see progress on all these issues and adoption in 2021 will reflect not only a confident embrace of the drones as part of standard practice across a range of industries, but also pent-up demand from the past two years.
What other markets have high potential for drones from your perspective?
Chris Anderson (3DR): It’s all about autonomy and breaking the 1:1 drone:operator ratio. Until drones are allowed to operate fully autonomously and without humans watching them all the time, we’ve achieved no economic efficiencies. Technically we’ve been there for years. We just need regulatory permission to do what is already possible and the market is crying out for.
Ed Alvarado holds a Master’s in International Relations, Bachelor’s in Economics & Philosophy, and has lived in 7 countries.