Professor Donovan, Leggate CTO BP, Daru CIO BP, John Donovan Jr.

Why not use drones for often dangerous work, such as inspecting power lines?

The New York Daily News in November of last year said (DailyNews 11/22/15) “U.S. utilities see great potential in the use of remote-controlled drones to do the often-dangerous work of inspecting power lines and transmission towers but strict regulations have so far slowed adoption of the technology.”

The article points out one of the impediments of using drones is the regulatory restrictions by the FAA. Yes, that is a short term operational problem that will be solved. What I want to focus on here is what is the entrepreneurial opportunity.

Here is a brief excerpt from my forthcoming book “The Entrepreneur”: The entrepreneurial process for a startup is to go through the following steps as detailed in the right hand of the Donovan Model: Lead the customer with new technologies and processes.

  1. Identify a customer need (upper right)
  2. Identifying a disruption in technology, business (upper right)
  3. Identify and convince an early adopter (upper right)
  4. Identify a business model (crossing the boundary between the entrepreneur space and operational space). A business model (that is how to make money) has to be proposed and validated.

Once validated, the business model has to be operationalized. The management space in the model:

  1. Identify and assemble assets (operational space)
  2. Scale (operational space)

Step 1: Customer Need: Let us go through the first two steps in this case. There is a need for monitoring powerlines, for possible terrorism, mechanical failure, storms, etc.

Step 2: Disruption – there are two. An economic one – traditional ways of doing this with helicopters is very expensive (it costs me $1MM per year to maintain my helicopter while a drone costs $10K). Secondly, there is a technological disruption, namely crowdsourcing, where thousands of people can watch a video at the same time looking for anomalies.

Step 3: Early adopter. Let’s identify an early adopter, say Vermont Power and Light. Make a deal to replace their helicopter surveillance with a drone, and use helicopter surveillance pilots to monitor the videos from those drones to look for problems on the powerline. And further, commission someone or assemble thousands of people to watch those same videos to see if they see any anomalies – this gives you thousands of more people looking at a potential problem, thus minimizing them missing anything, and hence the chances of finding a problem are much greater.

Step 4: Business Model – Reward the crowdsourcing people with bonuses and charge the power companies by the mile of lines observed.

Step 5: Assemble Assets – develop partnerships with drone companies, pilots, and utility companies.

Step 6: Scale – through positive publicity and assembling a senior management team.

As you can see the above steps give you a clear guideline on how to move into new areas which is effectively how to be an entrepreneur. A true entrepreneur will see all sorts of other opportunities. Keep your eyes open and keep moving!

See my new book “The Entrepreneur.”