Free e-book outlines UAS potential and challenges

By Patrick C. Miller | October 16, 2014

Staying awake at night thinking about the potential impact of unmanned aerial systems on his business led Mike Tully to write a book and offer it for free through the Aerial Services Inc. website.

The Definitive Guide: Unmanned Aerial Systems & Remote Sensing” is a collection of articles that Tully wrote for journals, blogs and other publications. He is president and CEO of ASI, a Cedar Falls, Iowa, remote sensing and mapping company that’s been in business nearly 50 years.

Although the book discusses how UAS could impact remote sensing and mapping industry, it also covers broader issues such as the technology’s impact on business, privacy issues and state laws and regulations.

For example, Tully describes what happened to Kodak when it failed to anticipate the impact of digital photography.

“Kodak invented the digital camera, but they’re still gone,” he said. “They couldn’t see how their industry was going to radically change and how to transform their business and their business practices to fit in the new opportunities made possible by the technology.”

It’s the uncertain future that caused Tully to examine the potential impacts of UAS technology on his business and drove him to share what he’s learned about the subject with others.

“I see that UAVs are coming and they’re going to be very different and enable anybody to do remote sensing and mapping,” he explained. “That’s going to be very disruptive to Aerial Services and many of the other firms just like us around the country. I’m challenged as president and CEO to figure out how to change our business practices, our alliances, our partners, the types of work we go after, the types of services and products we offer to take full advantage of these unmanned platforms.”

In his book, Tully outlines the promise and potential of UAS: “Today, it is inconceivably expensive to ponder continuously updated imagery and 3D maps across vast areas like the continental U.S. But when vast networks of inexpensive and adaptive flying cameras (remote sensing platforms) are always operating and networked with each other and with the processing center, this scenario seems much more plausible.”

He compares the current state of UAVs to the Model T of the automotive age.

“We’re just at the very beginning, but we already see rapid innovation, which is amazing because we’re still not allowed to use them commercially,” Tully said. “Innovation is happening at an increasingly rapid pace. We’ll see UAVs and their sensors mature and transform rapidly. As they improve, feature sets will be added.”

In his book, Tully also covers how different UAS laws passed by states might negatively impact businesses that could benefit from the technology and why it’s important to monitor how politics affects the technology.

 “I think it’s important for remote sensing and mapping professionals to help the states understand the technology and draft legislative language that accommodates the technology while balancing safety and privacy concerns in a responsible manner,” he noted.

“As remote sensing and mapping professionals, we don’t necessarily understand the language of privacy,” he said. “The people who work on privacy issues really don’t understand remote sensing. It’s important for us to talk to each other and help each other understand where we can work together and what we need to be concerned about.”

Tully said that while the book’s intended audience is the remote sensing and mapping industry, UAS manufacturers and UAV users, he believes it’s also of interest to the general public.

“It’s a new technology, and people are concerned that they’re going to have UAVs fly in their bedroom windows or shoot us down or spy on us,” he said. “They’re exaggerated concerns at one level, but very rational concerns.”