By Barry Alexander, Founder & CEO, Aquiline Drones
Growing up on the island of St. Lucia, I was always fascinated by planes and helicopters. In my younger years, I pioneered a crucial air ambulance service called Aquiline Air Ambulance – we used airplanes to fly critically ill or injured patients, as well as health and medical resources, to specialized hospitals across the Caribbean and into the US.
Self-actualization is necessary to combat adversity, and is a gift that provides hope, empowerment, self-worth, and balance. My family faced hardship in St. Lucia and coming from humble circumstances, I realized early on that I needed to create my own opportunities in order to be successful. I had an aunt living in Connecticut, so I came to the US where I often worked two full-time jobs to put myself through flight school. I never lost sight of my ultimate goal.
After earning my wings, I then spent over 25 years as an airline pilot and Captain. Most recently, I flew a Boeing 747 around the world, supporting US military operations and global commerce with Atlas Air. I utilized the last three years with the company vetting the drone industry on a global scale. I visited factories all over China/Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South America to learn about drone manufacturing and drone operator best practices after recognizing the need for an all-encompassing American drone enterprise and ecosystem.
Now, I have successfully launched my “final” entrepreneurial endeavor, Aquiline Drones (AD): one of the fastest-growing American drone companies, comprised of business professionals, fellow airline pilots, aerospace and software engineers, distinguished military personnel, algorithmic mathematicians, and other technologists.
Aquiline Drones is different from other drone manufacturers or operators in that we are more aviation-centric and thus, mindful of the operating environment, as well as being intimately familiar with the regulatory environment and the FAA.
Most importantly, we realize that drones without a payload are just flying mechanical robots. We therefore created the “brains to the body” by introducing the industry’s first aviation-inspired and drone-dedicated cloud – Aquiline Drones Cloud (ADC) – capable of supporting a wide variety of commercial drone solutions that gather, analyze, model, and store data/video for law enforcement departments, state agencies, public works departments, agriculture, military, and small and mid-sized enterprises.
Designed with extreme security and compliance, ADC supports real-time and autonomous drone operations and can be remotely deployed. It is easily scalable and allows for third-party development (Platform-as-a-Service or PaaS). The Aquiline Drone Real-Time Operating System (ADRTOS) is the world’s first aviation-inspired drone OS based on RTEMS open-source technology, ARINC 653 software specifications, DO178, DO330, ARP4754, and other aviation-compliant standards and protocols.
While drones are our tech industry of choice, the exciting aspect of technology is its constant evolution. If you’re looking for new ways to streamline an application, improve the customer experience, or fill a gap in your industry, AI is the next tech frontier that offers many areas of opportunity.
The Rules of Tech Industry Success
Here are some of my tried-and-true rules for creating a successful tech department or company:
- Use tech to solve society’s most complex issues – Drones can be part of a comprehensive solution set that offers Total Planetary Protection (TPP): aiding in the prevention and mitigation of forest fires, oil and gas spills and other natural disasters; assisting farmers with crop and cattle food supply management; helping law enforcement with surveillance and emergency services specific to disaster preparedness, response, and relief; and monitoring climate change by surveying bodies of water.
- Assemble a talented team – Do not let your ego prevent you from hiring people who are smarter than you!
- Do not be afraid to reinvent the wheel – Similar products and services may exist out there, but there is always room for improvement.
- Look beyond the present – Identify trends in how people will live and work five or ten years from now.
- Have the courage to change your business plan – Initially, I conceptualized Aquiline Drones as a drone dealership with the understanding that the industry was lacking direction. I quickly decided to move toward a pioneering position so that we could define standards for the industry, working in concert with the FAA, NASA, and other regulatory authorities. We needed to ensure that we first created a healthy ecosystem (and marketplace) within which drones could be introduced and would allow for drones to work alongside humans and provide augmented services.
- Know that passion comes from the top and should start with leadership – Nothing is more inspiring than company executives who are working toward the greater good and who believe their company offers the best solutions for their customers’ needs. Additionally, when the corporate culture is one of inclusion and mutual respect, everyone feels valued and more motivated to help the company succeed.
- Incentivize your sales force – We all know that money is one of the most motivating factors, so offering incentives such as stock options personally incentivizes employees to ensure and safeguard the company’s bottom line.
- Take your mission directly to your customers – By exhibiting at key industry events like the Defense TechConnect Innovation Summit and Expo, the Army Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence Symposium and Exposition, as well as the Commercial UAV Expo Americas, Aquiline Drones forged key relationships with industry innovators and suppliers for future growth.
- Offer each customer a customized solution – No two businesses are alike, so the more specifically you can address their needs, the more satisfied they will be with the end result and the more likely they are to recommend you to others. We like to think of ourselves as a drone and cloud solutions company in that we focus less on the drones, and more on their capabilities to capture the data that is later analyzed, modeled, and used to provide valuable insights to the customer.
- Strive to forge mutually beneficial partnerships – Rather than just supplier/customer relationships, you never know what growth opportunities will emerge. For example, one of our most recent partnerships is an exclusive production license, sales, and distribution agreement with Drone Volt in France to become the US manufacturer of its products – the Hercules 2 and Altura Zenith drones, along with its Pensar AI camera. Drone Volt is an international leader in the field of professional civilian drones and embedded artificial intelligence. By the end of 2020, Aquiline Drones had almost doubled its original size – both in staffing and manufacturing space – to facilitate drone production, with plans to increase production capacity month-over-month by the end of 2021.
Our timing is particularly apt given The American Security Drone Act of 2019, which aims to ban the federal procurement of drones manufactured by “Covered Countries” and other unmanned aerial systems. Additionally, the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) recent announcement that it will no longer use DOJ funds to purchase or operate any drone from “Covered Countries” fuels the demand for US manufactured drones. Both developments open up opportunities for US drone manufacturing, which AD is suitably poised to fulfill.
Bonus Tip #11: Treat each customer interaction as unique, with respect and individualization – This approach is likely to have a more positive and impactful effect on customers, such that they eventually become advocates of your company, its products, and its services.
Flight to the Future
We are doing all of these things at Aquiline Drones. As one of our initiatives, we launched a jobs initiative called Flight to the Future, which is a robust online drone pilot training program. Initially designed as a way for our fellow pilots who are either out of work or underemployed from the pandemic to make extra income, we quickly realized that our drone training and small business start-up program is applicable to any American seeking to transition into a new career within the rapidly growing drone technology field. Accordingly, we opened the program to anyone 18+ years old, and depending on their level of experience, participants can become a fully licensed drone pilot within 3-6 months.
More specifically, our Flight to the Future enrollees will become:
- Pilot Trained and FAA Certified
- AD Cloud Immersed
- Masters of a Specific Industry Application
- Small Drone Business Owners
Of course, Aquiline Drones’ Flight to the Future program utilizes the most sophisticated technology platform to achieve its goals, including AD’s proprietary “Spartacus” digital agent that provides feedback throughout a participant’s curriculum and training. Spartacus then becomes a job advisor once the individual establishes their business by forwarding lists of approved job requests for actual drone opportunities and missions.
Being a global leader of an industry that is growing 13.8% annually with a potential market of $127 billion by 2025, Aquiline Drones believes that adding 1 million new drone pilots/small business owners to the US economy within the next few years is a tangible reality.
Current Applications for Drone Technology
Some current and crucial applications for drone technology include:
- Asset Inspection – Drones can reach remote assets (drilling/offshore equipment, warehouses, wind/solar farms, etc.) to improve preventive maintenance, reduce costs, and reduce downtime, while improving the safety of personnel and ROI. Utilizing still imagery, video, and 3D modeling, industrial structures can be visualized and inspected in detail using AI-enhanced image recognition capabilities.
- Delivery/logistics – Cloud-based, centralized control, autonomous flight, and precision terrain data using “see-and-avoid” capability allow small-package drone delivery for a variety of payloads. AD has recently introduced “precision logistics,” a blockchain-supported chain-of-custody (hand-off) system for when there’s zero tolerance for errors.
- Agriculture – A growing application in agriculture is “precision farming,” in which autonomous sprayer drones are capable of carrying 25 lbs. (3 gallons) or more of liquid to cover 12,000 square feet or 0.3 acres of land. Besides distributing fertilizer and insecticides more cost effectively and safely than humans, drones also have the ability to scan large areas of land, collecting critical information through NDVI (normalized difference vegetative index) sensors. The data collected can be algorithmically processed to display the health of crops, as well as other risk vectors such as poor irrigation and soil health. Autonomous drones are a conservation game changer, with the ability to return data from remote locations. Lost livestock is now easily addressed by drones with high-resolution cameras. Even at night, an infrared camera can identify stray stock from their heat signatures. Furthermore, heat signatures can help determine the health of livestock, which could trigger preventive/preemptive action by farmers.
- Video production – Drones offer next-level business marketing for real estate, entertainment venues, tourism, colleges, churches, and other institutions with specialized capabilities and preloaded flight configurations.
- Surveying and mapping – In the world of telemetry and geodetic engineering in which mapping and terrain topologies are determined and used by the aerospace, aviation, forestry management, and farming industries, drones are now equipped with LiDAR sensors to perform scans of areas at a far cheaper rate. Drones also produce more precise data than their fast-moving, fixed wing, piloted counterparts. Autonomous surveying drones will do exactly as they are instructed and create tremendous efficiencies.
- Law Enforcement – One of the largest areas for commercial drone growth is within the law enforcement and public safety sector. For example, when emergency calls are received that involve criminal activity, drones can be deployed ahead of police arrival to provide first-person views for situational awareness, thus capturing crimes in action, providing first responders with live footage of the scene, and recording footage/images of suspects that may have fled the scene prior to the authorities’ arrival. In this context, drones can be outfitted with sirens and flashing blue and red lights indicating the arrival of the authorities on scene, thereby serving as deterrents to crimes or escalations, while improving response rates for cities. Subsequently, police authorities will be safer on the job and more effective at solving or fighting crimes that truly necessitate their involvement.
- Emergency Response – Emergency situations that do not involve crimes can also be better managed using drones. Just as the police would benefit from a drone solution system, so too would a fire department and/or EMT. When seconds count, drones can be sent ahead of first responders to assess the situation on the ground, give responders a crucial heads-up, and deliver life-saving supplies to victims that are not readily reachable by a human person in time. Even the coordination of street cleaning can be assisted by drones. Consider a snowstorm that delivers a foot of snow on the ground. Drones can scan streets, and especially side streets, to help snowplows coordinate their actions effectively and efficiently.
- Smart Cities – In a “smart city” initiative, AI-driven sensors are connected to a centralized cloud-connected mobile command center (MCC) that can be deployed in key locations throughout metropolitan areas. The sensors are designed to pick up sounds and other anomalies associated with crimes or danger, which would then launch a drone able to transmit live video stream to the alerted authorities to investigate remotely and determine appropriate action.
- Protection During a Pandemic – Lastly, while drones may not be able to prevent another pandemic from happening, they can certainly mitigate conditions sooner by potentially containing the disease and stopping the rapid spread of it before it reaches pandemic status. Some such uses for drones include:
- Delivery of medical supplies to front-line healthcare workers
- Transport of test results to labs
- Delivery of medicine and urgent supplies to individuals quarantined at home
- Spraying disinfectant into disease-infected public areas
- Serving as mobile public speakers to inform people of safety measures and tips
- Patrolling high-risk areas with photoelectric sensors to enforce curfews
- Monitoring the health status of employees/individuals with higher-than-normal heat signatures using infrared cameras
- Providing 24-hour surveillance of critical infrastructure, such as power and nuclear facilities and water and sewage treatment plants, as well as essential retail operations, like grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations.
To address the growing demand for drone usage in our current gig economy, Aquiline Drones is launching the nation’s first true “Drone-on-Demand” (DoD) mobile app. Akin to Uber and Lyft, individuals and businesses will have the luxury of ordering both private and commercial drone services right from their fingertips. DoD will be accessible through all mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets.
Aquiline Drones envisions a world in which humans and drones live and operate in harmony, using their real-time control, autonomy, and analytics to reduce costs, maximize return on investment, and create new business value. As people continue to realize and experience the capabilities of drones to protect property, reduce transportation carbon footprints, and save lives, this vision is not only possible, but highly plausible.
A veteran pilot, serial entrepreneur, and visionary leader, Barry Alexander is founder and CEO of Aquiline Drones, a full-service, US-based commercial drone company that boasts an integrated manufacturing and supply chain, world-class MRO services, and real-time data insights to improve ROI across a variety of industries. Barry’s ultimate goal is to revolutionize the entire American drone market through innovative technology and key community and governmental partnerships to create a world in which humans and drones live and operate in harmony for the betterment of society.