Austin-Based Drone Firm Percepto Secures a National BVLOS Waiver

Drone industry advocates have been pushing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for years to allow unmanned aircraft to be flown without remote piloting, especially in non-residential areas for the purpose of surveying and protecting critical infrastructure.  While the FAA continues to debate new regulations to govern Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone operations, the agency does offer waivers to companies that can demonstrate that their unmanned drone flights pose little or no safety risk.  But those waivers are granted sparingly, typically on a case-by-case basis for specific site operations.  Unmanned drone operations, while perfectly safe and technologically feasible, are still highly restricted, which understandably rankles drone enthusiasts.

So this week’s decision by the FAA to grant the Austin drone based technology firm Percepto the agency’s first standing BVLOS waiver establishes an important precedent.  The Israeli-owned company, which has pioneered the use of autonomous ”drone- in-a-box” technology, has contracts with numerous public power stations and private mining and construction companies nationwide to survey their facilities.  But those operations have been conducted sparingly, with additional obstacles posed by states with their own drone flyover restrictions.  With a fresh imprimatur from the FAA. Percepto can now dramatically expand as well as scale their unmanned drone flights, allowing for a significant expansion.

“We are very excited by the possibilities this national BVLOS waiver presents to our operations partners,” Tim Shanfelt, Operations Enablement Leader at Koch Ag and Energy Solutions LLC, said in a Percepto release. “This change helps us extract more value from an already important operations system. Percepto’s national BVLOS waiver will enable expansion of our automated drone inspection and monitoring without the wait for site specific FAA approvals.”

Skyhorse and Drone Hub, are also industry pioneers but none so far has secured an FAA waiver.   Skyhorse has developed remote docking, storage and recharging stations for drones that eliminate the need for human intervention of any kind.   Drone Hub’s autonomous drones carry cargo, possess advanced sensor capabilities and can fly for 35 kms continuously, making them ideal for future remote delivery operations.

But according to industry analysts, Percepto offers the best unmanned site survey capability in the business.  One reason is the drone’s advanced onboard data analytics but another is the role of a land-based robot – dubbed “Spot” – that assists the drone’s aerial operations with its ability to explore every nook and cranny of a site facility, including difficult-to-reach areas that even a highly maneuverable drone might have trouble safely accessing.  Spot can climb stairs and open doors all the while carrying inspection equipment, including RGB cameras and LIDAR.

The FAA’s approval of a national BVLOS waiver for Percepto is probably just the beginning.  The agency is already under pressure from industry to expedite its lengthy review of  draft regulations for BVLOs flights across the board.  In the interim, expect a growing number of companies, especially those that can demonstrate reduced risk, with partners prepared to adhere to strict FAA safety protocols, to be approved for BVLOS waivers in 2023.

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