Dyan Gibbens, CEO and founder of UAV service provider Trumbull Unmanned, gave a UAV Expo keynote address on what she called her “blue sky” vision for UAVs for global asset owners.

The term “blue sky,” she explained, has a personal significance for her. When parachuting in the Air Force, she learned the term, which evokes the concepts of safety, optimism, passion, and success.

Her presentation touched on her background (for a quick overview of her impressive background, see our interview with Gibbens here), but she focused mainly on the areas that the UAV industry needs to improve in order to bring the technology to maturity within the global asset space. Her points were tailored specifically to the use of UAVs in energy or oil & gas, but they are easily applicable in any industry that hopes to make UAVs a permanent part of its toolbox.

1. Increased Autonomy

A next step for UAVs is autonomy, but there are a few challenges. “I would say that our progress in autonomy has outpaced our progress in regulations,” Gibbens said.

Another challenge is the speed at which the technology moves, meaning proven technologies may be out of date and cutting-edge technologies might not yet be safe and reliable. Striking a balance between the two is necessary for progress in UAV autonomy.

Despite the challenges, UAVs are moving toward fully autonomous operations. She explained that the move toward this autonomy will go in three stages. Right now operators are in the loop, watching and controlling the UAV. Soon, she said, they’ll be on the loop, or just watching the UAV operate itself. After that intermediate step, the operator is going to be out of the loop entirely.

Keeping in mind this progression, she said, the industry should be careful to take into account the needs of every project stakeholder, including the customers, the coders, and so on. Without that input, and even without the input of other players within the UAV space, we’re going to have a “suboptimal” solution which ultimately helps no one.

2. On Demand

Soon, Gibbens explained, we are going to see a shift toward on-demand UAV solutions, just as we’re seeing a shift in other consumer and professional products. As this happens, the industry should be careful about pricing, being sure not to underbid and sacrifice sustainability of work or safety. “Safety is a premium worth paying for,” Gibbens said.

As this shift happens, other considerations that will change include the question in-sourcing or outsourcing, and the sensor packages offered by manufacturers and service providers. Real value is in the ability to show different types of information at the same time.

3. Introduced Error

When different data sets with different standards come into contact with one another, Gibbens noted, we introduce error. Moving forward, we must be cautious about this.

4. Data Dissemination/Management

Gibbens explained that the ability to transfer data in real time is integral to the success of a mission, as is a sensitivity to the needs of a customer. The UAV industry needs to respond directly to the needs of asset owners in order to serve them properly.

5. Automated Workflow

This issue is familiar within any high technology space, and is in high demand from customers. Some companies are doing this, she noted, but there need to be more companies working on it in order to bring real value to customers.

Unexpectedly, she pushed for collaboration. “It won’t be just one company servicing all of oil & gas,” she said, urging that as the industry streamlines its processes it should work together. Otherwise it won’t be able to meet the needs of its clients and it will be holding itself back.

This last point was perhaps the most important of Gibbens’ vision for the future. Beyond developing new technologies, beyond developing better workflows, and beyond finding the correct balances while making some tricky decisions, the industry needs to focus on collaboration.

“We’re not going to make progress in a vacuum, in isolation” Gibbens said. “We’re going to solve these problems by working together, by doing this together.”