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by Simon Cocking for

Interview with Ernest Earon from PrecisionHawk Highly intelligent, user-friendly, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for remote sensing. See Ernest speak in Ireland on November 6th at Drones Data X Conference in Mayo.

What kind of a child were you?

Human? All kidding aside, like most kids I was incredibly curious about the world around me. Exploring and learning about the world was what I spent most of my time doing. I did get very frustrated when I couldn’t understand something. I remember getting upset with my mother when she didn’t adequately describe our car’s clutch mechanism to me. I think I was around 4. I don’t make any claims to being reasonable.

Was there any indication in your background, that you’d be working in this field now?

I think like a lot of kids, I was always interested in planes, robots, and seeing the world in different ways. I was pretty good in math and the sciences, so that interest was something I was lucky enough to be able to continue to follow into my career. I had a number of summer jobs doing general contracting work and then electronics repair and servicing for businesses and really came away with an understanding that what commercial users really want when they hire you is to make a problem go away. They just want ‘it’ (as in whatever product you’re selling or repairing) to work and they need it to be a smooth part of what they do now. Those pieces have really helped shape where I am and the way I view what we do at PrecisionHawk.

What changes if any, would you make to the Western system of education to open up young people to the possibilities ahead? 

Our education systems have done a great job in providing training for specific fields. Certainly, by the time students get to universities they are typically in a very specific stream. This is certainly true for engineering and it works well for very established disciplines that have a very clearly defined skillset. However, with industries that are more disruptive, or at least very new, and particularly ones that require a very broad and holistic view of the system you’re working on, it helps to be able to understand the implications of what you do on other parts of the system. You can’t even change software on a UAV without knowing that it will impact payload, endurance, environmental performance etc. I think more exposure to a variety of fields will help, and the drive towards ‘mechatronics’ is doing that. I think it would also be incredibly valuable to give university students much more “hands-on” time with physical systems so that they fundamentally understand what a motor can do in the real world, for instance.

You talk about “immense pressure placed on development, food, health and infrastructure due to climate, increasing costs and overpopulation” and the need to look at the world in a new way . In an ideal world what would you implement to solve problems we face? 

I don’t think we need to look at an ideal-word scenario to be able to envision huge strides in these areas. We do have the resources, and certainly the motivation, to address many of these problems. What we often lack is clear, accurate information as to what is the optimal solution. That can really only be solved by providing more and better information about our world. I would suggest that what is required is to implement new technologies, and drones can be a part of that, that can provide those view points and answers in ways that are not possible now.

There has been a huge emergence of drone technology, where do you see the next 5 years going? 

I see the next 5 years as being incredibly busy. Technology is advancing at a tremendous pace and that is opening up new opportunities for effective solutions in many aspects of our world. At the same time, regulations and airspaces are opening up to really enable people to bring value using these technologies. PrecisionHawk is working very hard towards that goal, alongside several key partners, by developing a safety ecosystem for drones, called LATAS, that enables safe operations of these unmanned aircraft that are sharing the skies with manned aircraft. In the next 5 years as LATAS and other technologies pave the way for safer, more widespread use, we will be continuing to help provide value for our customers in ever new and innovative ways.

Technology and data are important for drones. What needs to be done for the  industry to reach its full potential? 

Data is something that PrecisionHawk takes very seriously. We consider it to be the true benefit of our technology. We treat our customers’ data with as much care as we do our own. One of the challenges that the industry will face will be extracting the huge value that the vast repositories of information represent while at the same time respecting the concerns of customers and members of the public have about their data. From the beginning we have always considered PrecisionHawk to be an information company. The value that we bring to our customers is the answer to their problem using technology that up to this point was expensive and often times difficult to extract usable information from.

You can extract more accurate models of crop production, for example, and thereby lower the insurance rates for farmers. But you need to be able to do that while protecting the interests of the farmer.

What can we look forward to a world of ubiquitous drones? 

At PrecisionHawk, our focus is on providing value in the agricultural space. As such, I am very much looking forward to the time when businesses look back and wonder how they were able to operate without drones. 10 years ago, a farmer that said that he or she would let a computer drive their tractor would be called crazy. Now, a farmer who does _not_ let a computer control his or her tractor is called crazy. That’s how valuable drones can be. I look forward to when information collected by drones will go straight to the cloud, get processed automatically to generate a set of decisions that will go straight to the sprayers or other implements in the famers’ field.  All of this without a human controlling the process or seeing the data. That’s what PrecisionHawk is driving towards.