How did you get involved in drones and AI systems?
I started working with Draganfly (DPRO) when the company was strong in the public safety area in the early 2000s. Right around 2013, I put an investment group together, and we bought Draganfly and have been operating it ever since. I became interested in drone technology because of its huge impact on the world, which continues to grow exponentially. Their impact is altering the very ground we stand on. I am still in awe of how drones are becoming an indispensable part of our daily routines, leaving us to ponder how we ever coped without them. The different ways they can be used is transforming industries in remarkable ways – spanning mining, agriculture, film and transportation – along with the ability to deliver life-saving payloads in theaters of war. The advancement of drone technology is revolutionizing how things are accomplished, making them superior, quicker and more productive.
Draganfly is over 20 years old, so how have you managed the challenges to design, engineering and technology in that time?
We’ve mostly stayed small and nimble – and in front of technology innovation. Our strategy remains focused on business-to-business initiatives, and we also pay attention to industry regulations and the changes there. Being a drone company, we knew full well that the commercial market would not open until restrictions allowed for commercial operations. Regulators have been striving for nearly two decades to make way for drones in the airspace, and their efforts are finally bearing fruit. Around two years ago, the Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLoS) regulation took shape, providing us with greater clarity. This served as our cue to expand operations, elevate our status as a commercial entity, and build a more significant brand presence.
A lot has changed in 20 years, particularly the growth of AI and battery efficiency. Do you anticipate more change in the next two decades that will directly benefit the development of drones and uncrewed aerial systems (UAS)?
There are four critical areas to consider when discussing the future of drone technology:
• Regulations: The implementation of drone technology is heavily influenced by regulations. The pace of technology implementation will depend on the regulatory environment. Overall, regulations will shape the future of drones by promoting safety, encouraging innovation, facilitating integration into airspace, addressing privacy and security concerns, and promoting international coordination.
• Battery technology: This is essential, because the power generation unit influences the drone design and capabilities. The most apparent way that battery technology is key is in terms of flight time.
Their weight will decrease, which enables drones to carry more advanced sensors, cameras and other equipment, expanding their capabilities
Longer-lasting and more efficient batteries will enable drones to fly for more extended periods, cover greater distances, and carry heavier payloads. As batteries become more efficient, their weight will decrease, leaving more room for other equipment and payloads. This enables drones to carry more advanced sensors, cameras and other equipment, expanding their capabilities
• Autonomy: A major feature of drones, involving navigation and regulation compliance. Artificial intelligence (AI) plays a crucial role in drone autonomy and is the future of the industry. Autonomous drones capable of collecting data and providing analysis will revolutionize many industries
• Services provided by drones: Drones can be used for various services, such as data collection, disease detection and environmental monitoring. The data collected by drones can be analyzed using AI, making the analysis process more efficient and reliable. The ultimate goal of drone technology is to serve humanity by solving many of the world's problems.
You have recently provided marine search and rescue (SAR) drones to Lufthansa – what capabilities do your drones provide that make them suited for this task?
We’re working with Lufthansa to design and build specialized drones for various maritime operations – mainly SAR and reconnaissance missions. Lufthansa Industry Solutions will integrate our Vital Intelligence software into its operations for maritime clients, which includes inspections and monitoring of vessels and cargo, mapping areas of sea operation, and primarily for SAR responses to people falling overboard.
Is your technology easily integrated with other parties’ processes; do Lufthansa require much training and additional support systems, for instance?
Lufthansa partnered with Draganfly because we’re a solution-focused partner and have a fair amount of experience integrating our systems with health and safety and navigation – all of it needs to be integrated.
Lufthansa partnered with Draganfly because we’re solution-focused
There is much work that makes the system integrable. Still, the whole objective is that it will be easy to manage and provide additional assistance to share data and increase safety for passengers and crew.
As well as your marine SAR drones, do your products support other aerial emergency operations, such as ground mapping for wildfire outbreaks or medical supply transport?
Maritime operations are a newer area for us. In fact, it’s a new area for all drones. We have a fair amount of experience in land operation, alongside fire departments, different fire agencies, and public safety agencies for things like SAR – and that area will continue to be a big focus for us.
We have a fair amount of experience in land operation, alongside fire departments, different fire agencies, and public safety agencies for things like SAR
Is the technology that you use on one drone (the optical and infrared imaging solutions, for example) compatible with your other drones?
Draganfly designs payloads to be interoperable on different platforms, even to the extent that they need not be our optical or sensor systems. We work hard to have third-party sensor systems work on all our platforms.
Your heavy lift drone is already capable of carrying a payload/cargo of up to 30kg. Are you working towards larger capacities, and will this be leveraged to human passenger scenarios in the autonomous aerial vehicle arena?
We don’t have plans to move into the air mobility space where we’re carrying people. That is a whole different regulatory environment. We’ll go into heavier-lift drones for logistics and industrial scenarios.
What can we expect next from Draganfly?
Draganfly is an integrated data company. Nothing collects data better than a drone. Because it has freedom of the airspace and carries big batteries, it can run multiple sensors. What differentiates Draganfly is that we can collect and analyze the most important and unique data for our customers. Everything we do is focused on providing them with more actionable data. To do that, you need the drone, the software, the AI and the autonomy – all those things add up to accessing the most critical information in the world to make decisions.