Airbus has established a new U.S.-based division designed to fuse satellite and drone data into custom-tailored, client-specific packages with easy-to-use interpretation tools. “Airbus Aerial” set up shop earlier this year in Atlanta. The new venture is led by Jesse Kallman, a UAS industry expert with 12 years of experience at Georgia Tech, federal policy at FAA, commercial UAS at Airware and advocacy with groups such as AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International).
The company is small, employing 15 people in the U.S. and a handful in Europe, but it borrows extensively from Airbus's larger satellite division, which builds, launches and monitors satellites. “We are bringing in commercial drone [data] and fusing it with satellite data,” said Kallman. “Say you're a large insurance company and you want to understand what happens after a large tornado or hurricane. You can work with Airbus Aerial to bring together satellite and drone data all in one cloud-based location so it is easier to run the information, easier to run the analysis on top of it. The ability to interface the layers and the ease of ordering [the data] is what's new. We're trying to make it much simpler so that new types of businesses that haven't traditionally used this technology can use it and have developed proprietary software and interfaces to do so.”
Airbus Aerial doesn't build its own drones and it doesn't fly them. Rather, it subcontracts this part of the service to the provider with the hardware best suited to the job. “Everything is based off the [customer's] data spec,” Kallman said. “Say an insurance carrier wants to know if there are hail hits on a roof. We know that satellites are out. We know it's going to be a drone. The size of the hail decides the resolution we need and the sensor we need, and therefore size of the drone. We work with the customer to determine the technology we need. Some customers use satellite data, some use drone data, some use both. We did a project in Colorado in May after a huge hail storm. We initially used a satellite to determine the [geographic] clusters of the damage and then sent the drones in to get the specific data.”
To date, Airbus Aerial's customers have been from state and local governments, utilities, insurance companies and, to a lesser extent, agriculture. “In agriculture, satellite data is able to solve quite a lot. In utilities and energy the deliverables are much clearer,” Kallman said. “A lot of our core business is software. We're hiring geospatial GIS [geographic information system] experts and people like that because that's the big challenge: How you take these massive volumes of information and distill down into what's relevant to them and make it easy to interface with.”