Wednesday, June 14th Lily Bengfort will be speaking at the 2016 USI Conference in Washington DC at Georgetown University. Panel: Making Sense of the Future – How Sensors Define the Next Generation of Unmanned Systems
A longtime entrepreneur with a passion for emerging technologies, Lily Bengfort was voted Maryland’s Small Business Person of the Year in 2010 for her role as CEO of CarGen, a company specializing in wireless communications for government and commercial clients working in areas with constrained bandwidth access.
Intrigued by the possibilities of the commercial drone space, she founded UAS SafeFlight last year to create safe, effective beyond line of sight technologies for the use of aerial robotics in commercial UAS operations. We checked in with Lily after her visit to AUVSI’s Xponential conference in New Orleans to get her thoughts on attending one of the world’s largest events dedicated to the UAS industry.
I found it encouraging that the FAA is creating a new Drone Advisory Council (DAC) to provide a forum for government officials and private sector decision makers in the UAS space to share their vision for the safe introduction of unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System (NAS).
With that being said, there were many people from the private sector that voiced displeasure with the federal government for not moving quickly enough to loosen restrictions on commercial drones in the NAS.
Were there any particular examples of American based companies that are actively pursuing overseas options for UAS testing because of these FAA restrictions?
Gur Kimchi (VP Prime Air) at Amazon told the audience during his keynote that FAA restrictions are the primary reason why Amazon is conducting their testing for Prime Air delivery in the UK instead of in the US. I got the sense that these less stringent commercial UAS restrictions abroad could mean that we’d see at least a few American based organizations take their UAS operations outside of the country and the potential for new jobs would leave with them.
As an entrepreneur, did you hear anything at Xponential that was particularly encouraging as you look to build up your business?
I think the most encouraging news was the FAA’s announcement that college students in certified university programs will be able to test UAS outdoors for research purposes without a Section 333 Exemption. Basically this means that university programs and their students won’t be strictly seen as a commercial enterprise by the FAA and don’t have to restrict their flight tests to indoor environments.
Why do you believe this FAA announcement will be beneficial for both startups in the UAS space and universities with UAS research programs?
As the CEO of a commercial UAS startup, I want to make sure that this generation of college students has had the opportunity to fly these sUAS in an outdoor environment so that they are accustomed to the challenges of navigating outdoor airspace when they graduate and are looking to enter the unmanned systems industry. Startups like mine that are actively raising money and looking to build up our businesses are going to be the ones giving these students their first jobs. It’s a nice perk to have that possibility of hiring recent college graduates that I’ll know have had a full range of flight test experiences, so this was a welcome announcement from the FAA.
There were quite a few startups that I had the chance to meet with and learn more about at Xponential that were founded by recent grads. It will be interesting to come back next year and see if this announcement will have positively impacted the growth of university programs focused on UAS research.