Leading Surveillance Drone Provider Talks Opportunities, Growing Demand for UAVs
Finding a demand in public safety and rising interest in other sectors, the executive team of a leading surveillance UAVs provider explains how the business is gaining altitude.
As an entrepreneur or business investor being an early adopter is a lot like being a high stakes gambler — the risk can be great, but the payoff can turn out to be spectacular. Historically, taking such risks has been particularly at odds with the mission of security, where protecting people and property has typically necessitated a conservative approach.
However, that modus operandi is being challenged like never before thanks to the heightened availability and allure of disruptive technologies. One company at the forefront of this bell curve is DSLRPros.
Founded by filmmaking buffs in 2012 in the Chatsworth area of Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley, drones provider DSLRPros soon partnered with FLIR and quickly expanded to become a leader in thermal imaging-capable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
“I owe a big part of my company to FLIR. They’ve been a great partner,” says DSLRPros Co-Founder and CEO Mike Zaya. Today, the firm’s 40 associates deliver drone-based solutions to public safety, energy, agriculture, construction and other markets.
“What makes us unique is that we think end-to-end,” adds Zaya. “We don’t just ship a drone to the customer; we have it to the point where they can take it out, fly it, and use the software to perform the mission. We’re not selling to guys going to the park; we’re selling to businesses with users who are often not ‘drone people.’ They’re interested in solving a problem and integrating the solution into their workflow. That differentiates us in the marketplace.”
To find out more about how DSLRPros has gotten its business airborne and primed for an upward trajectory, Security Sales & Integration spoke with Zaya and some of his executive team. They included Sam Nam, co-founder and CMO; Marc Flamm, sales & support manager; and Clint Wimmer, product development and supply chain manager.
Who are your primary customers?
SAM NAM: End users are typically our customers. Primarily right now it’s public safety, so fire departments and police departments. These are officers who are seeing the technology being demonstrated in other departments and seeing that capability be very valuable to them. So they look to us for both sales of the hardware and software and also for training support. We’re seeing that interest bleed over to other customers.
For example, a lot of the petrochemical plants and movie studios here in Southern California have either their own fire departments or their own security services that sort of behave very much like a public safety agency. And so they are also becoming early adopters, especially in the petrochemical industry because their security needs are quite high.
What does the competitive landscape look like for you?
MIKE ZAYA: It’s quite competitive. Selling drone hardware is interesting. We’re not in any one vertical. We do sell hardware, but it’s applied across the board in so many different use cases and verticals. So depending on the vertical, our competition is different. But for the most part it’s value-added resellers such as ourselves. There’s quite a few newer competitors as well as existing security companies in the security and public safety field.
NAM: When it comes to the geospatial and survey industries, there are companies that already offered geospatial tools and measurement hardware. They are augmenting their catalog with UAVs and drones, but they’re not specialized. We’re specialized in drones. But we may compete with them. When it comes to public safety, there might, for example, be a big public safety supplier that sells hoses and body cams and all that, but then they also sell some UAVs and drones. So we’ll compete with them in that space. Then there’s also other more specialized enterprise integration UAV shops similar to us, but they’re typically a bit smaller and regionally distributed.
Could you provide some details on your particular product offerings and the technical capabilities?
CLINT WIMMER: Our typical packages have a flight time of anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes. They come with multiple batteries in order to execute multiple missions. They’re portable and everything will be packed into a case. They have a range of well over five miles, although you are limited by line of site currently unless you have an FAA waiver. They’ll provide aerial imagery, either thermal or visual depending on the client’s needs.
Many of our units actually offer both simultaneous thermal and visual imagery, so they can be used for a number of different purposes like surveillance, rescue or inspection work. We also offer a number of other things. We’re able to drop off payloads. We have protective packages such as parachutes and things like that. We also offer fixedwing aircraft, which have a longer flight duration. They can fly around at a faster speed so they’re able to cover a lot more ground. Those are typically used for border security and mapping applications.
NAM: It’s also important that we recommend the right software solutions for customers. For example, it could be a solution with augmented reality software that allows the use of street names with GPS locations to be overlaid onto a visual screen for the purpose of a coordinated tactical response. Beyond the hardware and software, there are consultative concerns about implementing different processes and SOPs within an organization to get the best value out of the drones.
Does every unit have a FLIR camera on it?
NAM: Not every unit, but most do because we believe thermal imagery is so valuable. Often, when you’re flying at 300-400 feet, it may not be easy to see a person of interest with optical only. So in the majority of cases we recommend getting a thermal camera. But there are people using these tools effectively with only RGB opticals.
WIMMER: A variety of different FLIR cameras will work with a number of different craft. We have essentially the good, better, best offering from FLIR. In models with both visual and thermal capabilities we’re actually able to overlay the visual video on top of the thermal video. What that can do is help you to see through things like smoke, which is particularly valuable for firefighters.
Keep reading to find out how DSLRPros markets its business and advice it has for integrators…
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