3DR Enterprise manager explains efforts for commercial markets

By Luke Geiver | July 21, 2016

3D Robotics Inc. became a staple brand in the drone industry through its work to serve the do-it-yourself and recreational user, but now the company believes it has created the complete drone hardware, software and support package suitable for commercial end-users.

Dan McKinnon, enterprise product manager of 3DR, has helped lead the new 3DR Enterprise division into the commercial space. After launching a UAV-focused firm and earning a master’s in physics, McKinnon was asked by company founder Chris Anderson to lead a team of 3DR product developers, marketers and sales representatives specifically targeting commercial end-users—construction and surveying to start—to connect 3DR to the commercial marketplace.

In March, the company unveiled its Site Scan package, a product suite that includes the quadcopter Solo drone, along with a Sony camera, access to Autodesk and a mapping software all with a support system set-up to answer client questions and offer advice or tips necessary to provide the best client deliverables possible.

“We are the only company that is selling a product that gives you the peace of mind to be successful,” McKinnon said when talking about the difference between 3DR’s new offering and others on the market. According to McKinnon, the 3DR team is confident that its suite of services doesn’t exist with other products, and, that the time is now to bring its platform built for recreational purposes to the commercial market.

The 3DR offering is based on the purchase on a one time purchase along with a monthly users fee. The package for immediate purchase includes one Solo drone (equipped with a Sony camera) and one tablet. With a $499 monthly fee, users get access to the 3DR cloud (which offers unlimited storage of aerial images) along with access to ArcGIS online. Support services are also available 7 days a week and if for any reason a new platform is needed, 3DR will ship one overnight to the client.

“The mission of the enterprise team is to take this incredible technology we have built in the DIY sector and consumer space and leverage it in the commercial space,” he said. “It is just getting to the point where that market is feasible.”

To date, McKinnon and team have found several commercial clients. Several engineering firms have used the 3DR Enterprise system, and the state of Colorado used it to survey the Red Rocks Amphitheatre earlier this year.

“Even though drones are really to use right now, they are still pretty intimidating for a lot of firms,” he said. “When it comes to somebody that is doing business and they need to ensure they are getting a return on investment and the deliverables they need for their clients,” he said, “they don’t want to be messing around with multiple vendors and multiple support systems.” The 3DR service is the one-stop shop that can provide everything a client needs from A to B, he added.

Part of that process includes access to image storage, retrieval and handling. The company has partnered with two separate companies to image storage and processing easy and cost effective, McKinnon said.

Through its partnership with Autodesk—a software used widely by architecture, engineering, construction and manufacturing firms—3DR has created a system that can take images captured on the job site by a Solo and quickly turn them into 3D renderings, mosaics or point-clouds of particular sites.

The Autodesk collaboration helps the pilot plan a flight and choose to inspect, scan or survey an area. In a typical workflow scenario, the user would draw a circle around a designated area pictured on a tablet (provided in the 3DR package). With the area to be flown designated, the drone will collect images of the ground, hover for vertical structure image capture or be flown semi-autonomously for inspection of particular user-desired sections. Once the job is finished, Autodesk—which is used by roughly 90 percent of all construction firms—will quickly generate an image of choice by the user.

Through its partnership with Esri, 3DR has partnered with the world’s leading provider of GIS solutions to integrate the Site Scan platform with Esri’s Drone2map. The system can create high-resolution georeferenced maps and digital elevation models for share as a tile or feature service in ArcGIS and ArcGIS online.

Despite McKinnon’s early success in pushing 3DR to the commercial end-use market, he said his efforts will still include working with potential customers on new product features and figuring out how to get them integrated or offered. Beyond those continuous efforts, he said there is still one main hurdle in the drone industry that his company and others are still facing with clients. “Educating customers has been the number one hurdle for drones in general,” he said, adding however, that the creation of what they believe to be a complete product package offering can help them to jump any future hurdles present on the way to running in the commercial service drone race.