The Drone World Expo 2017 Interviews – Biren Gandhi

In the fourth of a series of interviews with key figures involved in the success of Drone World Expo, we talked to Biren Gandhi, Distinguished Strategist, Corporate Strategy Office, Cisco. Biren is focused on identifying key technology trends and accelerating their adoption through acquisitions, development or partnering. He has built a successful track record of bringing innovation to life through strategic collaborations with startups, venture capital firms, universities and partner ecosystems.

Currently, Biren spearheads strategy for highly disruptive technologies, such as the Internet of Things, fog computing, drones/UAVs, block chain, deep learning, robotics and artificial intelligence.

What was your first professional encounter with UAS?

My first UAS encounter was around two years back when NASA had hosted the UTM drone convention at their Ames Research Center in Mountain View. We were invited to participate in a panel session on commercial drone opportunities. We had also demonstrated a remote inspection use case and had included the entire audience to join a WebEx session relaying drone’s FPV stream. Cisco delivered a keynote speech outlining the IoT vision and how drones would play a pivotal role in accelerating that vision. This convention acted as a key catalyst for the evolution of our drone program.

Are you a hobby drone pilot or have you ever tried?

Of course. Watching drones fly around in intriguing, but doing it yourself is way more exciting! Hobby drones are instrumental in capturing interest and excitement of a broad range of age groups and audiences. However, a significant part of the future success of the drone industry would hinge upon the adoption of commercial drone use cases. Precision agriculture, remote inspection, live events, emergency & humanitarian services, deliveries, smart cities – these are just a handful of domains waiting to be unshackled and drive exponential growth in the entire drone eco-system.

Do drones qualify as a ‘disruptive technology’ or are they simple extensions of existing technologies?

It depends on one’s perspective. There are toy drones that can be thought of as flying versions of toy RC cars and can be considered as “old wine in a new bottle.” On the other end of the spectrum though, there are other drone systems with powerful capabilities like obstacle avoidance, smart mission planning, intelligent connectivity, secure communications, fog computing, sensor fusion and artificial intelligence. They contain enough new technologies to deserve a “disruptive” title rightfully. There are some intermediate-level technologies as well that extend the scope or reach of existing technologies. For example, wireless connectivity has been around for a while, but 5G/LoRa and seamless transition between WiFi/LTE and these newer wireless technologies is something new for drones. In short, drones contain a mix of everything in technology – disruptive, pre-existing and things somewhere in-between.

How could Cisco be involved with drones? Are you planning on making any acquisitions, and if so, in which area?

Cisco has five pillars to its innovation strategy – build, buy, partner, invest and co-create. Most people are familiar with the buy part – acquisition segment of Cisco’s strategy. But that’s just one area. Internally, Cisco is constantly innovating around disruptive technologies and incubating new lines of strategic businesses. Drones fall in that broad category, but so do Blockchain, AI, Deep Learning, AR/VR and many others. In addition to build and buy, Cisco is great at working with partners across the spectrum of small start-ups, academic institutions, governments, larger corporations and VC & investment communities. Our 9 global innovation centers outside of US enable us to seamlessly tap into growing paradigms of co-creation and co-innovation engagements without constraints of borders and geographies.

For drones, Cisco is committed to leveraging all the five pillars of its innovation strategy as they make sense from time to time. As an example, check out this short video highlighting our Autonomous Systems Application Platform vision:

Why did Cisco decide to get involved in Drone World Expo?

Cisco believes in democratized innovation for digital disruption. Future opportunities are simply too big for any single company to claim. By working together collaboratively, we all can incubate a much more sustainable and thriving commercial drone ecosystem where everybody wins. Drone World Expo is a forum where such a collaboration can and does happen.

Events like DWE remind me of a famous quote I almost always use in my keynote speeches, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

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