NEW HAMPSHIRE UNION LEADER: ANDOVER DRONE PRODUCER GETS $1.8M DEAL WITH U.S. INTERIOR DEPT.
ANDOVER – When it became too dangerous for firefighters to fly planes into the smoke from California wildfires last year, a drone from an Andover company was called in to help.
“With a drone like ours, you can put a thermal camera on there, you can fly through the smoke, you can see the fire through the smoke,” said Adam Sloan, co-owner and CEO of BirdsEyeView Aerobotics. “It just gives them a way to be more effective in a particularly dangerous situation.”
Co-founded by two former NASA interns, the company was rewarded recently with a contract from the U.S. Department of the Interior to provide up to 50 drones over the next three years.
The deal is worth up to $1.8 million, Sloan said.
“The extended range and endurance of these aircraft will provide our land managers, emergency managers, firefighters and scientists with expanded aviation capabilities that continue to reduce the risk and cost of carrying out missions,” Mark Bathrick, director of the Department of Interior’s Office of Aviation Services, said in a statement.
The company’s drones have flown on every continent but Antarctica.
The drones, which look like planes, can take off vertically and fly 59 continuous minutes up to 12,000 feet in winds up to 25 knots.
Powered by two batteries, the FireFly6 Pro contains six motors, GPS and a small onboard computer. The drone – with its five-foot wingspan – is made with injected molded plastic foam.
The lightweight material “gives us all the strength we need,” Sloan said. “It means we get more flight time.”
Optional payloads can include things such as a camera, but max out at 1.5 pounds. In all, the drone weighs less than 10 pounds.
“The computer is always in control of the aircraft,” he said. “The computer flies it from takeoff to landing.”
Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration predicted more than 450,000 unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones, will be flying in the United States by 2022. As of Dec. 31, there were 110,000 registered with the FAA.
With a $6,000 starting price, the BirdsEyeView model prices out most hobbyists, Sloan said.
Eric Andelin, UAS program manager at the Wantman Group, a consulting engineering firm in West Palm Beach, Fla., said his firm employs three BirdsEyeView drones.
“We use their drones for mapping all kinds of things,” Andelin said by phone. That includes golf courses and landfills.
“The biggest advantage for us with that drone is the vertical takeoff capability,” he said. “It allows us to launch and land in very tight, tight locations.”
Sloan said the drone needs only a 10-by-10-foot space to operate. “Any driveway or any parking lot,” he said.
When he was a military contractor, Sloan said tiny airplanes with two-feet wingspan needed 100 yards by 50 yards for traditional takeoffs and landings.
He said he liked working to help protect soldiers’ lives.
“Once (military drones) became about weaponization, I just kind of checked out,” he said. “At that point, I wasn’t interested in participating. I’ve always been more interested in the way everyday people would use the technology and the productive use of it and the peaceful use of it.”
Sloan and his wife, Christine, started the company in their New London basement in 2011 and later moved to Sutton before landing last year in their current space on Main Street in Andover, west of Tilton.
“There are about a thousand units in the field,” he said.
BirdsEyeView has seen its sales grow and is working to add its eighth employee as well as expand its space.
The drones’ parts are made in several countries, but the final assembly takes place in Andover, about a mile from Proctor Academy.
Christine Sloan, the chief financial officer, said all software is developed in Andover.
“Every unit gets flight tested before it’s shipped out,” Adam Sloan said.
To reach the site BirdsEyeView occasionally uses for drone testing, you drive several minutes from the company’s headquarters and cross a 19th-century covered bridge, stopping at a private gravel pit.
“This is our office when we’re out flying,” said Rene Roy, an engineering technician.
When mapping a golf course, the drone shoots photos that are tagged with GPS coordinates, so “you know exactly where that picture was taken,” Roy said. Software then can piece together one overall image.
After Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last year, a BirdsEyeView drone did just that.
“You fly over the area and you build a map, so you easily can see the damage that the hurricane caused,” Adam Sloan said.
Read the article on the Union Leader website here: http://www.unionleader.com/Andover-drone-producer-gets-$1.8m-deal-with-U.S.-Interior-Dept.