Skyward aims to be the Verizon of drone services

It’s still early in the integration process—Verizon just acquired Skyward in February—but the drone-as-a-service company is not short on aspirations.

Founded in 2012, the Portland, Oregon-based company wants to be the Verizon of drone services, so to speak, a goal it’s hoping to attain in part by participating in the process of actually creating rules for the road in the sky.

Jonathan Evans Skyward
Jonathan Evans

Skyward co-President Jonathan Evans, a former Army Blackhawk pilot, is president of the board of the Global UTM Association (GUTMA), whose mission is to basically create an interoperability blueprint for traffic management of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Being a truly global organization, the association operates exclusively online.

Verizon said when it bought Skyward that it was a natural progression of its core focus on operating in innovative, high-growth markets, leveraging its network, scale, fleet management, data analytics and more to simplify the drone industry and help support the adoption of IoT. Skyward is now part of the company’s Telematics division, alongside the likes of Fleetmatics and Telogis.

Skyward doesn’t make drones, but its services enable enterprises to safely deploy drones at scale. The company employs a team of professional pilots and computer scientists who created the platform that serves various industries, including agriculture, construction, energy, mining, retail and sports.

Interestingly, the media and film industries are turning to drones in ways that are revolutionizing film production, with the ability to add an aerial perspective, and Skyward is seeing increased interest from those industries, Evans told FierceWirelessTech.

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Skyward has said its combination with Verizon’s network will allow organizations to efficiently and safely scale drones across multiple divisions and hundreds of use cases, but it doesn’t need LTE connectivity to conduct its fundamental drone activities today, which include services such as basic flight planning, record-keeping and regulatory compliance.

Skyward was actually the recipient of an investment by Verizon Ventures back in 2015, when Evans described Verizon as a “dream partner” and one that sees drones as fundamentally more like cell phones than 747s. Verizon Ventures at that time shared the vision of managing drones at the enterprise level and being something like a Verizon for drones.

“Drones are a ubiquitous network of sensors that are hungry for data and our job is to enable massive enterprise scale deployments of these networks for customers that are using them for infrastructure inspections,” as well as things like precision agriculture, Evans said. It’s making sense of that data that’s key and turning massive amounts of data into actionable information with which to make decisions, he added.

Skyward serves customers in more than 41 countries today. The rules in the air are similar to rules on the ground in that drivers in the U.S., for example, can rent a car and drive in, say, Europe, with a degree of familiarity. For aviators, it’s similar in that they understand the general rules of the road wherever they may be, Evans explained.

As for Skyward’s ambition to be the Verizon of drones, that idea intersects with Skyward’s involvement in GUTMA, whose members include some familiar wireless names, like Qualcomm, Nokia, Sony, Parrot and Gemalto. Seeking to build that sort of highway for drones above the earth, GUTMA is working with regulators and stakeholders worldwide to identify standards and technical solutions to make it all work safely and successfully.

Skyward’s ambition to be one of the leading players providing airspace services for drones requires an interoperable and global architecture with a diverse community of stakeholders, Evans said. “We see a really new revolution in the technology taking place right now,” he said. “It’s a really neat group to be part of, I have to say.”