Small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as drones, are great tools for data collection in a variety of industries. In agriculture, drones equipped with specialized cameras fly over fields to measure crop health and yield far more quickly than conventional methods. In the construction and mining industries, drones are used to efficiently inspect work sites to ensure they’re safe for workers, reducing survey time from 10 hours to 15 minutes. The architecture and urban planning industries use drones to survey areas significantly faster than a traditional ground survey team. All these use cases have one similarity: the importance of a drone platform (the airframe, propellers, and batteries needed to fly) equipped with a payload that captures the data necessary for decision making. However, the drone payload must go beyond simply capturing data; to be useful, it must collect a large quantity of high-quality data.
Not Your Everyday Drone Payload
Drone payloads for data capture range from an off-the-shelf consumer GoPro camera to advanced custom payloads with multiple specialized cameras and sensors, like the one Syncroness is currently developing with our client. We’re working with a multinational Fortune 100 technology company that operates in the consumer and commercial spaces to develop a system that combines a commercial drone platform and a completely custom-built multi-sensor drone payload for high-quality data capture. The payload will include multiple stereo cameras as well as other sensors like GPS, LiDAR, and thermal cameras. All the cameras and sensors in the payload require a high degree of calibration, both individually and relative to each other, to support the client’s need for accurate data. While the client already has a prototype of the system, Syncroness is working with the client to redesign the whole system from the requirements up. The goal is to create an efficient system that allows the drone platform to fly longer with a payload that captures a larger quantity of higher-quality data. This project will ultimately allow the client to decrease their costs by scaling back their use of manual labor while enabling them to gain a competitive edge in their market by redefining their customer experience.
Modeling Successful Product Development
The secondary goal of the project is to model a sustainable and scalable product development process for the client. The current payload design grew out of the client’s iterative development process: the client would produce a batch of prototypes, test them, then make design improvements to implement in the next batch. While this iterative approach to development works in the prototyping phase, it doesn’t scale effectively when working with large, operational volumes. Our client is therefore leveraging Syncroness’ product development process expertise as they graduate from the early technology demonstration phase and bring their product to market at scale. We’re helping our client define their own product development process and establish a standardized workflow that they can sustain in the future.
De-Risking a Difficult Scope of Work
Syncroness started work on this project by completing a phase 0, a preliminary phase Syncroness carries out with the client when a project will be large and complex. In this phase, Syncroness and the client collaborate to identify what work must be done to address the client’s needs, culminating in a comprehensive report that Syncroness delivers to the client. After the phase 0 is complete, the client isn’t under any obligation to work with Syncroness for the rest of their project. Taking this approach reduces the client’s risk in working with us because it gives them a clear roadmap of what must be done on their project. It also gives them a chance to determine whether Syncroness is the right fit for their project before they commit to working with us on a large and complex project.
The phase 0 for this project began with a story-mapping exercise. A team of Syncroness’ project leads visited the client’s site for three days to identify specific design improvements for the client’s multi-sensor drone platform and payload. Our project leads walked through the client’s entire program and interviewed more than 40 stakeholders. Everyone from managers to maintenance technicians shared what they liked about the current system, what they didn’t like, and what could be improved. At the end of the three days, the Syncroness team gathered all the data and compiled it into a single, comprehensive report outlining recommended activities ranked against the weighted criteria important to the program to determine the activities’ priority for greatest impact. The client ultimately took this report and converted it into an ROI assessment to guide their budgeting decisions and prioritize the recommend activities to support the program objectives.
An Integrated Team
Thanks to the successful completion of the phase 0, the client partnered with Syncroness to implement the recommended changes. We’re currently working with the client in a team package engagement, which means that Syncroness is providing the client with a dedicated development team that is fully integrated into their ecosystem. This enables us to work on the multiple sub-projects identified in the recommended opportunities report and quickly respond to rapid changes in the project roadmap. The team for this engagement consists of all the disciplines at Syncroness, as well as a few of the client’s engineers and project managers—all managed by Syncroness. Our strong, highly collaborative working relationship with the client means that they lean on Syncroness to make decisions rather than simply perform assigned tasks.
Our team is excited to be involved with such an interesting and challenging project that leverages our technical experience with UAVs as well as our process expertise. We’re glad to have built a highly-collaborative working relationship with this well-known multinational brand that will ultimately contribute to the next generation of drone design and functionality.