Experts say the focus on advancing drone technologies in Central New York with millions of dollars committed by the state could transform the industry. As local and Upstate companies are fine tuning the technologies, others are already claiming success by delivering more specialized services to customers.
Sentient is focused on ensuring longer drone flights in all kinds of weather as they switch the main power source from batteries which drain in the cold. CEO Saif Deen Akanni says the company also intends to change the distance and time of drone flights in general.
“Our hybrid power system will allow you several hours flight time regardless of the time of year, regardless of the ambient temperature. So, what we’re effectively going to do is to revolutionize the drone industry and enable all sectors of the drone industry so that applications, mission statements and all these kind of things become capable or viable in some instances and the ones that are already out there being practiced, they can expand.”
They intend to use fossil fuels such as diesel and aviation fuel to go the distance.
“… but, we‘re burning it in a very efficient way. We’re then using that micro-turbine to turn a light, compact motor generator unit at very high speeds to generate the power we need. That means we’re decreasing our dependence on batteries. So, we do need a small energy storage array, not necessarily a battery but, it’s significantly reduced in size because the generator from our system becomes a primary source of electrical power.”
The concept was enough to earn the company which started in Italy the top prize of $1 million dollars in the Genius NY competition in Syracuse. Five teams pitched judges last week vying with other drone related products, service based companies or software.
To get numerous drones to fly properly involves enhanced software and systems. Ryan Pleskach from Resilienx of Syracuse says they’re developing monitoring software as the “check engine light for the drone ecosystem.”
“Our software is meant to run in the background and do the algorithms and anaylysis to verify whether or not your system is actually health or maybe it’s sick and reporting bad data into the system…. And then the drones in the air or other systems are relying on bad data.”
As he points out, sending drones up in the air so they can travel beyond the visual line of sight is also technology that remains to be perfected. The US Airforce and Army have both expressed interest in a maintenance display and the company’s technology that is in development. Pleskach is confident that their software would enhance the industry with reassurances.
“It’s all about being able to prove that drone isn’t going to fall out of the sky or it’s not going to run into another drone or a commercial airline. Until people can prove that, without a doubt, the FAA doesn’t give those waivers. They’re rejecting applications right now at a rate of more than 99 percent.”
The company has received FAA approval for testing. On the services side, some companies like Eagle Hawk of Buffalo are out to collect data to manage and assess rooftop issues. CEO Patrick Walsh says that eliminates the need of sending workers in dangerously high places.
“It’s gonna make it really easy for the roof technician or contractor to access the data. You’ll be able to easily navigate and locate issues on the roof using geolocation. They’ll be able to take additional information such as pictures and notes while up on the roof, while seamlessly synched to the online platform.”
There’s numerous online companies offering stock photos that customers may want but, what about custom aerial photos? The CEO of Vermeer, Brian Streem says the company has developed technology to process orders with GPS points locked-in.
“That map has GPS data in it. So as the user is moving their phone through space, we’re recording a series of wave points and camera orientations. Then, we’re able to send that to the drone.”
So when a customer orders a specific area to be captured through a virtual portal, it’s precisely the 3-D view they want.
“So the way customers work with Vermeer, they download the app, they select the location, they create the shot and then essentially they could deploy that shot to any one of our thousands of drone pilots across the US. The drone pilot goes to the location, puts the drone on the ground, then they put the shot onto the drone and then then drone autonomously, automatically flies. A few days later, the customers gets the footage exactly as he or she wants. It’s a fast revenue model, so we’re actually charging the customer and we’re also charging the drone operators with access to our pipeline.”
Vermeer is able to process drone aerial images across 80 percent of the US. The app based service works with DGI based drones and DGI controls about 80 to 90 percent of the market. They also let customers know where drones are allowed to fly.
“We’ve done a lot of research in real estate marketing, we think that’s the good potential next market. Land based photography is potentially a big market for us and ultimately package delivery, general aviation construction.”
Vermeer, EagleHawk and Resilienx have been awarded $500,000 each. You might be asking, why has the state awarded teams 15 million dollars over three years on drones and the various technologies? As the Director of Genius NY John Parry points out, it’s not solely about drones. It’s more about developing cutting edge technology for a wide variety of uses for consumers like expanding apps technologies such as turning lights on and off at home and adjusting your thermostat while your away to even more cutting edge technologies. He says it also translates to creating jobs.
“We really believe that all these unmanned IOT, data driven technologies… this is the future and this is where we want to position Syracuse and Mayor (Ben) Walsh is right behind it. We are ready to bring Syracuse into this next generation of technologies, so we don’t fall behind, again. And we provide jobs for all of these talented students coming out of the best colleges and universities in the country, so they have exciting jobs. And it can be right here at home, where they grew up.”
NUAIR is providing a place to test drones in Rome. Governor Cuomo has committed at least $30 million to further drone technologies. A 50 mile drone test corridor between Rome and Syracuse is scheduled to be completed by September of 2020.