Dave Famolari: Can you set the stage? How did you first connect with Verizon Ventures and what is it like working with a CVC?
Bob Young: Verizon understands the Internet of Things (IoT), and when we met with Verizon Ventures, it was clear that the team was paying attention to the latest advancements in Internet connected devices and Internet enabled applications. They recognized PrecisionHawk’s innovative use of telecom, Internet cloud processing, and storage technologies to better serve the users of terrestrial data. Verizon understands that while PrecisionHawk might fall into the “drone” business category, the value of what we do isn’t about the drone. The value that we provide is in creating measurable information that can help solve real world problems.
DF: PrecisionHawk recently announced a partnership with DJI, linking their commercial-grade drone hardware with PrecisionHawk’s DataMapper software platform. The result of this partnership is a complete analytics solution for farmers at an accessible price point. How does this set a new standard for UAV remote sensing within agriculture?
BY: The fun part of working in a new industry is that we are creating “new standards” every day. This partnership is all about enabling leading drone manufacturing companies, such as DJI. They have this remarkable equipment, but to create value from that equipment and use the terrestrial images they need the storage, processing, and analysis software tools that we provide in our DataMapper platform. Where we are setting a new standard here is acknowledging that you cannot just deliver data; we need systems in place to effectively analyze that data and then get the results and information into the hands of the stakeholders quickly.
By assembling a holistic package like this one, a user has all the tools necessary for applications that improve the productivity of American farms or enable insurance companies to analyze claims more accurately and pay claims faster. Our goal in this partnership is to make remote sensing accessible to the end user, so industries like agriculture can begin seeing the truly transformative capabilities of aerial collection technology.
At PrecisionHawk, we see smart farming as an opportunity to transform aerial data into usable information that will ultimately lead to increased farm yields with lower costs. Farming is becoming even more productive in large part because farm machinery is becoming more intelligent. Self-driving tractors and combines are helping the farmer produce more with less effort, and to compliment these existing workflows we built our DataMapper software to integrate with the new intelligent farm equipment. Because of this, the result is a single step for the farmer, from the drone flight to the next farm management action.
DF: In addition to helping farmers harvest more efficiently, what are some major drone applications in sectors like oil and gas, mining and geology, insurance, search and rescue, forestry, and telecommunications?
BY: All of the above. Just one example: The principal cause of pipeline oil spills is when a weld between two sections of pipe fails. Interestingly, those welds don’t fail suddenly. The weld starts to expand over days and sometimes weeks before the weld fails and a leak occurs. Low flying drones can capture images of sufficient accuracy to measure the weld to within millimeters. By flying the pipeline weekly or even daily with a low-cost automated drone, the pipeline monitors can see if a weld is weakening before it fails and repair it before the leak occurs. This presents the same value proposition as we discussed in agriculture. You need to be able to rapidly and automatically process and deliver information on trouble spots, like the weak welds, so a human can quickly make decisions that remedy the problem.
DF: In your experience, what's the best way to work with an investor like Verizon Ventures?
BY: Honesty and transparency. Verizon Ventures has a clear understanding of what they are looking for and the value Verizon can bring to any partner. In PrecisionHawk’s case, Verizon Ventures took particular interest in one of our technologies, the Latas tool, which monitors airspace and terrain. Latas can track a drone beyond line of sight and compare the drone’s location to that of known manned aircraft and known exclusion zones (such as airports). This technology provides the commercial drone operator with confidence that it is safe to fly the drone over the property he is trying to inspect, a critically necessary tool for any flying robot.
DF:What's next for PrecisionHawk in 2016?
BY: Our principal goal going forward is offer our platform of terrestrial data collection, storage, and analysis tools to empower an industry of brilliant, creative, and valuable suppliers of applications for improving mankind’s use of the limited resources of our planet.
Automated flying robots may sound like science fiction, but they are simply a dramatically lower cost way to collect data and measure changes on land and property more consistently and reliably than has ever been possible before.
In turn, this means we can monitor changes in our environment for the purpose of reducing the use of pesticides, or eliminating pipeline oil spills, or improving the yield of our farms, and the thousands of other valuable improvements enabling mankind to use the limited resources of our planet ever more responsibly.
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Entrepreneur Spotlight: João Barros, CEO of Veniam
Entrepreneur Spotlight: Sascha Simon, CEO of Driversiti