What do you see as a major challenge to the unmanned systems industry?
The proper testing and integration of unmanned airborne systems into the National Airspace System is a critical challenge. Current airspace restrictions limit the ability to test UAS in real-world conditions, thus hampering the advancement of UAS technologies. Industry and government have an opportunity to make a major impact on UAS development by jointly finding a way to safely and effectively integrate unmanned systems into the national airspace.
What does your development and growth strategy look like in the coming years for your robotics/unmanned systems sector?
Our focus is drawing on the strength of the entire Boeing UAS portfolio to meet the full range of critical mission needs today and tomorrow. We have a unique, diverse mix of proven and evolving UAS capabilities — from demonstrated organic solutions to the world-class services of Boeing subsidiary Insitu to newer solutions we are developing or teaming with industry to offer. This collective group of Boeing teammates and partners is well positioned to deliver affordable, innovative UAS capability tailored to each customer.
What has been your biggest accomplishment in the field of unmanned systems in the last few years?
Insitu’s ScanEagle has continued to perform flawlessly, accumulating more than 650,000 combat flight-hours with 99 percent reliability. From its experience supporting the warfighter, ScanEagle has expanded into the civil/commercial arena, monitoring marine life in Australia, conducting disaster assessment in the United States, and preparing to perform aerial surveillance for the oil and gas industry in the Arctic.
Meanwhile, our unmanned Little Bird H-6U, has distinguished itself as a proven, affordable vertical-take-off-and-landing UAS solution. This year the optionally piloted H-6U added to a long list of demonstrated capabilities, performing highly successful autonomous shipboard takeoffs and landings.
We are also preparing for the future with newer offerings, such as Phantom Eye, which successfully completed its first flight in 2012. Phantom Eye is a prime example of innovation and technology, created by a team of Boeing engineers and designers from across the enterprise. This new type of long-endurance unmanned vehicle will shape the market place for our customers — whether aiding the defense of countries or following a natural disaster — by providing ultra-persistent “eyes in the sky” at altitudes reaching up to 65,000 feet.
Where do you see the industry going as a whole in the next decade?
As we work to safely and responsibly integrate UAS into national airspace, industry will be better suited to address the current and growing demand for unmanned systems in civil and commercial applications. Unmanned systems will be able to carry out a much wider range of missions.
How do you see your business transitioning to the commercial sector as the unmanned systems and robotics industry moves in that direction?
We are working closely with FAA on certification of our products to hasten our support for the emerging commercial market. We will be pursuing our first ScanEagle commercial operations over the waters offshore Alaska in the coming months and using the lessons learned from that experience to broaden our commercial deployments.
How has AUVSI membership helped your company?
AUVSI has provided opportunities and forums that have allowed Boeing and Insitu to engage and collaborate with industry and customers as appropriate to effectively advance unmanned systems. One example is the AUVSI code of conduct established in 2012. Boeing has long been an advocate of the principles set forth in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations Industry Code of Conduct, which are critical for the proper testing, advancement and integration of UAS into the national airspace.