EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES

Lockheed Martin Eyes Commercial, Civil UAS Market

1/12/2015
By Yasmin Tadjdeh

With fewer dollars being allocated for military unmanned aerial vehicle procurement, Lockheed Martin is looking to sell its drone products to the burgeoning commercial and civil market.

When it comes to the company’s smaller portfolio of drones, such as the Indago quad rotor, the Vector Hawk, the Desert Hawk III and Stalker platforms, there are a number of opportunities, said Jay McConville, director of business development for unmanned solutions at Lockheed.

“On the commercial side, absolutely, there is a great thirst for UAVs for … precision agriculture, … law enforcement, firefighting, pipeline and oil exploration and monitoring. These are new markets that have seized on this capability,” he said during a Jan. 12 media briefing in Arlington, Virginia.

The small UAVs — all with varying endurance and speed capabilities and weighing between four and 22 pounds — are built with payload modularity in mind, McConville noted. That will make it easier to transition them from military to commercial applications, he said. Reliability and safety are also critical to commercial and civil customers, and Lockheed Martin offers that, he said.

The Indago quad rotor in particular has received significant commercial interest, he noted. Besides ease of use, it has a number of private sector applications such as precision agriculture.

He also touted the potential civilian uses of the company’s much larger K-MAX cargo unmanned aerial vehicle. The aircraft was first deployed in 2011 and has since moved more than 4.5 million pounds of cargo for the Marine Corps in Afghanistan, according to a company press release.

K-MAX could be used for commercial cargo missions and for firefighting purposes, McConville noted. In November, Lockheed demonstrated that the K-MAX, working alongside the five-pound Indago quad rotor, could successfully aid in firefighting scenarios. During a demonstration, an Indago aircraft was able to locate hot spots and transmit data to an operator who was then able to direct an unmanned K-MAX to extinguish the flames by dropping water over it. In one hour, the K-MAX dropped more than 24,000 pounds of water, Lockheed Martin press materials said.

“The aircraft is adaptable to multiple … missions in the civil and commercial space. Delivery of cargo, for civil and commercial purposes, is an obvious one, but firefighting, first responding, disaster recovery and relief operations" are all possibilities, McConville said.

K-MAX is based on mature technology, and Lockheed would feel comfortable flying it in domestic airspace.

McConville emphasized that the company still sees opportunities in the military market.

“We see market growth coming in civil and commercial, as well as a continued robust military environment, both U.S. and international,” McConville said. “Requirements still need to be filled” for both large and small platforms.

Lockheed is one of many companies looking to sell its unmanned aircraft to the commercial industry. Before the market can really take off, however, they must await formal guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration.

While recreational drone flying is legal in most domestic airspace, UAVs largely cannot be used legally for commercial purposes. The FAA has said it will soon release rules governing the commercial flying of drones, but it has so far missed a number of deadlines.

Over the past several months, however, the FAA has granted a few regulatory exemptions for commercial UAS operations. On Jan. 6, the FAA granted two exemptions, one for real estate photography and another for precision agriculture. The exemptions join 12 others that cover a number of sectors, including the motion picture industry.

As of Jan. 6, the FAA said it had received 214 exemption requests from commercial companies.

Topics: Business Trends, Robotics, Unmanned Air Vehicles

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