Chalk up another inroad for drones in the world of mainstream aviation. On March 2, a DJI Inspire 2 operated by Measure, the “drone as a service” company, deftly delivered the winning raffle envelope at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit in Washington, D.C.
Hundreds of attendees were delighted as Ronney Miller, Measure’s director of flight operations, piloted the buzzing quadcopter over a path that had been cleared from the rear to the front of the ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. Measure media specialist Grant Lowenfeld worked the camera gimbal. An insert mounted in the SSD slot in the aft of the drone carried the envelope, which held two round-trip United Airlines tickets. Chamber master of ceremonies Carol Hallett, who formerly headed the Air Transport Association of America (now Airlines for America) and United CEO Oscar Munoz watched gleefully as the $5,000-plus Inspire 2 and camera ensemble settled to the stage.
This was no Las Vegas technology bazaar—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the button-down lobbying arm of corporate America; its headquarters are a stone’s throw from the White House. Each year, the aviation summit features CEOs from major airlines and aerospace companies, including this year Alain Bellemare of Bombardier and Dennis Muilenburg of Boeing. Not merely the entertainment, Measure was there as an exhibitor. The 2014 start-up company provides drones and pilots as a turnkey data-gathering solution for energy, construction, telecommunications, farming and other companies. “We don’t make drones,” Measure says. “We make drones work.” In January, it raised $15 million in Series B financing to take the concept beyond the development stage.
There are other examples of drone mainstreaming—some might even call it gentrification. The FAA’s blue-ribbon Drone Advisory Committee, headed by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, comes to mind.
Even the staid FAA is coming around to the cowboy industry. “During the past three years, the FAA has been undergoing a noticeable cultural change as it has embraced what has truly been a fundamental redefinition of the term ‘aviation,’” Administrator Michael Huerta told the Chamber crowd. “For decades, aviation was defined as conventional aircraft doing what they’ve always done: Flying from Point A to Point B as seamlessly as possible. Today, a host of new users want to do the same thing, but with small unmanned aircraft or commercial rocket launches. All of our constituents are looking to the FAA to allow them to fly when and where they want, and to do so safely and efficiently.”
Though it didn’t require agency approval for an indoor operation, Measure’s flight over a ballroom floor was a milestone of sorts in that direction.