DroneDeploy launches smartphone tech

By The UAS Magazine Staff | November 25, 2014

DroneDeploy, an unmanned aerial systems (UAS) software and technology developer, raised $2 million from multiple investors, including SoftTech VC, Data Collective, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Red Point Ventures. The San Francisco-based company, offers a unique software known as the CoPilot that can connect an unmanned vehicle to an Internet feed, eliminating the need for ground-based operational control.

What started out as a hobby for Jono Millin, Nicholas Pilkington and Michael Winn, co-founders of DroneDeploy, quickly turned into a potential business opportunity for the long-time friends. The idea to use drones for practical uses such as in insurance, real estate, and animal monitoring was conceptualized in 2010, but came to full flourish in 2013.

“We realized there was a lot of potential in this trade, but it was difficult to try to get anything done,” said Millin. “We hypothesized a couple scenarios where these could be useful for things like real estate photography for legal disputes and we experimented by duct taping cameras to remote control helicopters before quadcopters became a viable option.”

The trio soon realized the idea wasn’t feasible yet and the industry needed more technological advancement. The group put the idea on hold while Jono and Nick pursued doctorate degrees in machine learning and Mike worked at Google.

“In 2012, we realized that a lot had suddenly changed in quadcopters and life of batteries and autopilots and all of those things suddenly became a lot more capable,” said Jono. “We realized we were getting very close to the stepping off point where we could use drones for the vision that we had a couple years ago. We knew we could use our software expertise to make drones easy to use and try to make them as safe and reliable as possible.”

The trio’s software expertise led to the creation of the CoPilot. The drone software is connected to the Internet removing the middlemen who once had to be on the ground communicating with the drone throughout the flight, according to the company.

“The CoPilot talks to the autopilot [in the drone] and is able to give it high-level instructions,” said Jono Millin, co-founder of DroneDeploy. “We can tell the CoPilot to map a certain area, the CoPilot will then instruct the autopilot and it will also trigger the sensors in the cameras to get high-quality images.”

He added, “Instead of going out to the field and having a big table full of antennas and big tracking panels, you’re out there with a cell phone and the drones that you want to use to capture the data with.”

Following DroneDeploy’s U.S. inception in 2013, its biggest customers have come from the agriculture surveying and construction fields, due to the easy use of the technology and data retrieval.

“I think what’s unique about our platform is the way it was built to connect with the cloud,” said Millin. “We really simplified all of the steps required to actually get data out from the other end.”

The data is accessible in real time to anyone through DroneDeploy’s website and application available on smartphones. According to the company, the application allows the client to navigate through the images similar to what Google Maps and Google Earth allows. DroneDeploy also has the option of exporting the data to a client’s preferred software.

DroneDeploy provides customer training through a remote Internet feed.

“When somebody switches on their drone, we have a support staff online that will walk them through the set up process and will walk them through how the whole software solution works,” said Millin. “We can actually view their drone and help clients set parameters remotely and we can even give them support while they’re out flying.”

Millin hopes DroneDeploy can be an enabler by making it as easy as possible for the people on the ground to get results in a safe and reliable fashion.

“I think that’s one of the big pieces we’re trying to bring to the puzzle,” said Millin. “We’re trying to simplify the entire process from not just planning a flight but actually getting that data out on the other side.”