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On Friday the FAA granted Section 333 authorization for commercial use of 3DR drones to two companies, BNSF Railway and Build Imagery. The exemptions will not only allow these companies to use 3DR drones for business purposes, but will also enable all parties involved to continue to test and refine 3DR drone technology for industrial applications. This is big news not just for the companies involved but for the industry as a whole — a model for a successful collaborative triad of government regulators, drone companies and commercial interests.

3DR modified and optimized its drones over the course of a months-long collaboration with BNSF so the vehicles would meet specific demands both for heavy-duty industrial applications and for FAA compliance. Build Imagery will now operate the 3DR IRIS+ on architectural, engineering and construction industry sites, as well as in motion picture and television filming, and BNSF Railway will operate the new 3DR Spektre Industrial Multirotor Aerial Vehicle for inspection on railroad infrastructure and operations. The FAA reports that 640 petitions for commercial use have been docketed, with only 45 exemptions granted; however, dozens of approvals are apparently still in the pipeline.

The big deal

These commercial exemptions impact the drone industry in a few fairly important ways. First, the companies who get FAA approval now have full access to drone technology, and their businesses will directly benefit in terms of safety and efficiency. An approved partnership with 3DR means a company gets access to the 3DR Open Platform, consisting of three major elements: vehicle, mobile and cloud technology, all supported by hardware, software and services solutions. This is important because our open platform model will enable industry partners everywhere to collaborate with us on development and even create and contribute their own applications.

For the drone industry at large there’s an indirect (but huge) benefit to getting these exemptions: We get to show the world — and regulators — what drones can do, and how well and reliably they work in the real world of business and industry. Drones, by doing the dull, dirty and dangerous tasks, have the potential to save many lives a year in addition to automating and streamlining business processes, primarily inspection-oriented. As flying cameras and sensors, drones can also bring the physical world (like a construction site) back into the digital, where projects can be monitored and manipulated and even uploaded to the cloud for real-time collaboration. With a commercial exemption, we can showcase how these benefits affect the real-world market.

Additionally, the drone industry (and 3DR) benefits directly by learning from specific scenarios that we simply couldn’t replicate or predict in our labs. 3DR can use our partnerships with BNSF and and Build Imagery as a kind of real-world R&D department: We can build and tailor our drones to meet specific industrial requirements, execute specific tasks and do it all more efficiently. Our customers will make us a better company, and more exemptions like this will overall make this a better industry.