South Florida businesses of all kinds stand to benefit, profit from drones

South Florida Business Journal Miami and Commercial Drones

Courtesy of the South Florida Business Journal

Florida has in recent years emerged as a nationwide leader in adoption of drones, and at least one local economic development agency is seizing on the technology as an opportunity for regional business growth.

The Beacon Council hosted on Thursday an event at its downtown Miami office that gathered experts on the drone industry and local business leaders, aiming to shed light on how South Florida's economy could benefit from the emerging technology, and even become an industry leader.

The Beacon Council is an economic development agency that works exclusively with Miami-Dade County to spur business growth. In May, it announced it would launch a commercial drone initiative to provide information on how drones can be applied for commercial purposes.

Spearheading the initiative along with Beacon Council members is Christopher Todd, founder and CEO of Miami-based drone solutions company Airborne Response.

Drones, he said Thursday, will one day be viewed the way many view smartphones today. Both are "positively disruptive" tools with a wide range of applications, Todd said. In the case of drones, they can be used for aerial photography, land surveying, infrastructure repairs, data gathering, among other applications. South Florida is uniquely positioned to reap the benefits.

The tri-county region enjoys fair weather that would enable frequent drone testing; a robust tech industry is afoot; and a "rich" aviation history bolsters South Florida's foray into drones, Todd said.

But a number of obstacles also stand in the way.

Challenges include: playing catch up to be on par with states such as California and New York, which have public-private partnerships in place to spur drone use and research; changing perception of drones as intrusive and unsafe devices; and navigating the complex regulatory framework that governs the use of drones for commercial purposes.

But Todd and his peers who spoke at Thursday’s seminar are optimistic. For one, drone technology should be a no-brainer for companies looking to cut costs, said Charles Zwebner, CEO of VolAero Drone Imaging Services in Miami.

“Corporate America is all about profit, and so if people can do more for less, they’ll do it,” he said.

To illustrate the point, Zwebner cued up a video of VolAero using drones to inspect a Bank of America building in Aventura, where roof repairs, or replacement, were in order. Using drones, the cost of inspection was cut by about 70 percent — an irresistible value proposition for just about any business owner, Zwebner said.

“It’s just Economics 101,” he said.

And thanks to an evolving regulatory landscape, drones are increasingly accessible, said DLA Piper lawyer Matthew Grosack.

Laws proposed at the federal, state and local levels have lifted some regulatory limitations to flying drones for commercial use. In August 2016, a new set of rules governing federal bureaucracy around licensing, called Part 107, was introduced, streamlining the process to commercial operation of drones. At the state level, House Bill 1027 unanimously passed both the House and Senate in May, laying the groundwork for a uniform set of laws governing the registration and use of drones throughout Florida.

Debora Lima covers technology, startups, biotech and transportation for the South Florida Business Journal.

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