The Data and Drones of Tomorrow

May 9, 2018 | Author: Brad Westphal

I was invited recently to share a lecture on drone technology at Minnesota Drone Day, “Commercial Applications: Challenges and Opportunities,” hosted at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. Through my presentation, “Autonomy and Analytics,” I was able to share the exciting advances Honeywell is making in the commercial drone space in front of an audience of other aviation stakeholders such as Xcel Energy, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Collins Engineering as well as University of Minnesota students, faculty and alumni.

I feel strongly that drones – or, as we are continuing to discover, data from drones − are revolutionizing industrial markets. This has big implications for the aerospace industry, but it also has broad, connected implications for changing the way dangerous or dirty jobs are done across Honeywell’s connected strategic business units.

The power of connected is truly exemplified by the commercial unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) services offered by the UAV Greenhouse at Honeywell. If you haven’t heard the term “greenhouse” before, think of it as an incubator within Aerospace. Simply put, it is a term that encompasses strategic growth priorities within Honeywell Aerospace, consisting of UAV commercial services, industrial inertial measurement units and thermal barrier coatings.


One of the key components of the greenhouse charter is to embrace the eight behaviors at a warp speed rate. We have been tasked to use Behaviors such as “think big,” “act every single day and moment with urgency” and to “go beyond” to gain market share and presence in the commercial drone inspection market. Part of how we have accomplished this in the year since the greenhouse was created is by leveraging the size, strength and strategic market position of Honeywell’s global presence and other strategic business units.

We were granted the opportunity to partner with strategic business groups in Honeywell and gain direct access to established customers, sales channels and relationships to iterate and rapidly deliver on what our customers need.

We have learned very quickly, through our voice of the customer process, that what industries need more than a drone platform is an end-to-end data solution. Right now, drones are delivering a tremendous amount of data. That data is very dense and requires end users to spend many hours sorting and making sense of it. This is a highly manual process, and that’s what makes the work of the UAV Greenhouse dynamic. We are transforming real-life problems into technology-aided solutions.

My lecture at the university touched on the importance of our team’s work to advance autonomous functionalities in analyzing data. Here is an example of that technology in action: If a drone flight currently delivers 60 minutes of raw video or imagery, someone has to log all that data manually and interpret what it means.

What we are working toward is training and programming the software to sort through those 60 minutes in a fraction of the time, and deliver to the end user only the bits of data that require a human action. The customer doesn’t want to see 3,000 images of a transmission tower from a drone flight; they only want to see the relevant 10 or 20 photos the software flags as needing attention and human intervention, such as repair or maintenance. That is what we are solving right now across multiple-use cases.

Drones and data are transforming the way utilities get inspection work done. The sky is the limit right now for Honeywell Aero’s UAV Greenhouses, at least up to 400 feet above ground level.



Brad Westphal

Senior Director of Commercial UAV Solutions at Honeywell Aerospace