Percepto’s New FAA Waiver is a Major Breakthrough for the Drone Industry

Pressure keeps growing on the FAA to grant waivers to UAV firms to allow them to fly over long distances to conduct their operations on a Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) basis.  Several small package retail delivery drone companies, including Zipline and Wing, secured BVLOS waivers last summer; so did Ameriflight, for its partnership with Matternet, using Matternet’s state–of-the-art M2 drone.  But thus far, only one firm engaged in industrial applications has secured a BVLOS waiver – the Israel-based company Percepto, which specializes in electric power grid and oil and pipeline inspections.  It happened last month, and it’s a major breakthrough for the drone industry.

Percepto has received more limited FAA waivers in the past, for its site work for companies in Florida and Texas, but the newest version of the waiver is far more sweeping.  It will allow the company to scale up its drone inspection operations nationwide, using fleets of 30 UAVs at a time, all controlled by a remote pilot at a central control center.  No ground-based visual observation or expensive technology sensor platforms will be needed to monitor inspections for technical performance and safety oversight, further reducing the cost to the company and its clients.

Neta Gliksman, Percepto VP of Policy and Government Affairs, hailed the FAA’s decision, calling its new waiver the “true holy grail” for industrial drone operations at scale. “This is opening doors for critical inspection operations for our clients, expanding the possibilities and scale of autonomous inspection technology,” he said.

One of those clients is Delek US, one of the nation’s leading oil refining companies. “Percepto’s approval from the FAA to remotely operate drone fleets sets the stage for transformative advancements in various industries,” said Ido Biger, Delek’s chief information and data officer, upon learning of the new waiver. “Delek plans to utilize [Percepto’s] remote inspection technology to minimize our environmental footprint and boost employee and community safety at scale.”

To date, many companies have relied on Percepto drones to slash the costs of their inspections and improve the efficiency of their operations. Florida Gas-and-Light, which manages 75,000 miles of power lines in the Sunshine State, used to conduct annual inspections of its grid infrastructure with field crews that were time-consuming and expensive.  As the lines age and require more observation and repair, additional field inspections are needed, adding to the cost, while exposing more field workers to safety risks.  Percepto’s onsite “drone-in-a-box” inspection system allows for fully automated drone inspections that can be conducted repeatedly throughout the year with minimal additional cost and without the need for human intervention.  The inspection drones, which are equipped with high-powered cameras and sensors, have also improved the company’s ability to anticipate and remediate powerline fraying and electric sparking and “shorts” to avoid power failures and other potential service interruptions.

Percepto’s star continues to rise with investors, who rightly view its new FAA waivers as a sign that the company is eminently bankable.  Last summer, Percepto received a fresh infusion of $67 million in venture capital, bringing its total investment to date to $150 million.  The latest funding round was once again led by Koch Disruptive Technologies (KDT), with additional support from new investor Zimmer Partners as well as existing investors like U.S. Venture Partners.  “KDT’s reinvestment underlines their confidence in our ability to make companies more profitable by keeping infrastructure operational in the face of the unpredictable,” said Percepto Co-founder and CEO Dor Abuhasira.

The latest waiver is also a reflection of the growing partnership between Perception and FAA in the development of new BVLOS rules for drone companies throughout the industry.  Last year, Gliksman  was appointed Vice President for the Commercial Drone Alliance (CDA), a non-profit organization led by commercial drone industry leaders.  The CDA works with US federal policymakers and industry stakeholders for the advancement of the commercial uncrewed aircraft systems and advanced air mobility industries.  Gliksman has emerged as a key mediator and advisor between the FAA and other inspection drone companies and actively consults with those companies to help them obtain BVLOS waivers of their own.

“I look forward to working with my fellow CDA officers, and with our broader CDA membership, to ensure that a strong regulatory and policy framework accelerates the implementation of commercial drone technology,” Gliksman said last year. “Percepto fully appreciates the significant benefits that remote operations of drones will bring to critical infrastructure sites, including quicker incident response and vastly accelerating efficiency across inspections and operations.”

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