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.
What kind of price points generally are we talking at the end-user level?
MARC FLAMM: We’re faced every day with budgets that are all across the board and we want to have a solution at almost any price point. We have kits that start as low as $1,000 or $2,000 that can go up to $15,000 or $20,000. Some kits even get up about $30,000. It depends on the quality of the thermal camera, the quality of the optical camera as well as the capabilities of the airframe itself.
How are you primarily marketing the business, is it mostly word-of-mouth? Are you getting some pull-through from FLIR?
NAM: We market in multiple channels. We post a lot of online content to our YouTube channel and website. This is informational content that is updated frequently to inform users about the state of technology and the industry. If somebody puts in the words “police drones” or “thermal drones” into Google they’re able to come to a page on our site that will explain in great detail where the best technology is and the solutions we recommend. Google has deemed we’re the authority in that space and ranked us very highly. The second way we get leads is through events, and so we put on different ones in different regional areas.
We started our first one in Los Angeles. We’re doing another one in a few months in Northern California where we invite people from public safety and security committees to come out and get hands-on time with the hardware, and talk face-to-face with our salespeople. This gives them the chance to really get into the nuts and bolts and get all the answers they need.
We haven’t yet gone to trade shows because we find there’s a lot of noise at trade shows. We prefer to do our own free events so our prospective clients can come and learn. And then, like you mentioned, FLIR and a lot of OEM manufacturers are referring customers to us as well. So those are the three primary ways in which we currently market. But every year the word-of-mouth continues to increase and we’re getting a lot more referrals to the point where it’s 15% to 20% of our business.
As we see AI and IoT proliferate, what other capabilities could drones offer?
ZAYA: I’ve met with a company where they’re training to do computer vision for drones to be able to autonomously pick up on corrosion. This would replace the piloted aircraft presently needed to accomplish this task. While we have done a great job as a frontrunner, drones are only at the starting line. We don’t believe things have taken off the way we see them five to 10 years. Once that happens and once government opens up and feels more comfortable with it, that’s truly Day One for this market.
NAM: In every single industry, as we get additional drones deployed it will generate more data. Anytime there’s a large amount of data to look at you can exploit it to operational advantage through machine learning and AI for things like auto detection and auto triaging. It’s about allowing human beings to get information that’s interesting to them, sorting and sifting through it all, and then producing actionable details. Users can then go and decide what they need to address.
Expanding on the corrosion example, we are seeing demand from the agriculture industry for crop health management. They can gain early detection of places where crops may be deficient in certain nutrients. In the security industry, obviously you could autonomously detect someone breaching a perimeter and alert somebody to respond. Some public safety agencies are working with a software company that allows their pilots to fly in a given area with a drone in a different remote location that they are able to control.
That’s going to help with large expanses of perimeter border security. Border security may be able to more easily be monitored via UAVs all along the border using just a central command pilot. This is similar to how our armed forces does it with our other larger fixed-wing drones, but this is going to be with multicopter and smaller fixed-wing drones from the commercial space.
FLAMM: It’s worth mentioning some of the AI capabilities already incorporated into drones on the market today as well. The average drone we sell has the ability to fly autonomously via waypoint. That means you can use it to patrol a perimeter every night rather than using a security guard. You can send the drone out on a preplanned flight someone programs and any security guy can check the perimeter, so effectively you’re multiplying the number of security guards onsite.
What advice do you have for a security integrator looking at the drone market? Wise for them to get into, best to seek a partner, or just to wait it out for now?
ZAYA: Drones right now are quite technical and complex, although they’re getting easier. I strongly recommend a partnership of some sort. Form an affiliation and let the drone company focus on the solutions at hand, with the integrator remaining focused on their client.
Look for that collaboration because as a small business it’s tough to invest the money needed for a product to just sit on the shelf waiting to be sold. There are a lot of configurations to consider and so this is a capital-intensive business with fast-changing technology.
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