Last week, leading defense and industrial unmanned systems provider Aerovironment announced an exclusive distribution partnership with enterprise solutions provider Draganfly for Aerovironment’s commercial drone offering, the Quantix™ Mapper. It’s a significant deal that makes sense for both companies. As the market for drone solutions grows, the deal is also an indication of how major drone industry players are differentiating themselves and their expertise in an increasingly crowded field.
DRONELIFE interviewed Draganfly Chief Operating Officer Patrick Imbasciani for the insider’s view on the Aerovironment deal, the outlook for the drone industry – and even the effect of the coronavirus on the market.
“We’ve been working with AV for a few years now, providing them contract engineering services on a number of their defense oriented projects,” says Imbasciani. “Our team has tremendous technical capabilities for this kind of work, we genuinely enjoy the challenge of it, and we’re always looking to do more.”
The Right Time for Commercial Systems
Draganfly has a long history with Public Safety, Emergency Response, and military grade drone systems. “To date, we have sold close to 9500 of our systems worldwide,” says Imbasciani. “One of our drones, the Draganflyer X-4ES, can be seen on display in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. It earned its place there by being the first commercial drone credited with saving a human life. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police used it with a thermal sensor on a bitter cold night, to find a person who had gotten disoriented and wandered off, following a vehicle accident. When they found the individual, hypothermia had already begun to set in, but they were able to rescue them thanks to our drone.”
As the market evolves, Imbasciani says it’s the right time for many reasons to bring focus to commercial solutions: selling and supporting the Quantix is part of that. “When I joined Draganfly this past October, in addition to expanding our contract engineering business, one of the 2020 objectives I set for us operationally, was a renewed focus on our commercial solutions.
“We’ve been manufacturing secure autonomous vehicles in North America for 22 years. Given the recent move to ground Chinese drones by the US government, the time was just right for us to return to our roots building and selling systems,” says Imbasciani.
“As your readers probably know, it can take a good bit of time and money to move a UAS from concept to full production. Based on the R&D already invested into it, our founder Zenon Dragan and members of our engineering and production teams thought highly of AV’s Quantix Mapper. Confident it could accelerate our reentry into the commercial space, we began exploring options with AV to commercialize this North American made product, worldwide.”
The Quantix™ Mapper
If you’ve been to a drone conference recently, you have probably seen Aerovironment display the Quantix, a medium sized commercial aircraft. “Quantix takes off and lands vertically like a multirotor, but can cover more ground because it transitions in the air and flies as a fixed wing. Unlike a fixed wing however, it does not belly land, so there is no risk of damaging its sensors or airframe,” explains Imbasciani. “Its hybrid VTOL functionality makes Quantix a great fit for those markets faced with austere environments such as construction, mining, utilities, and environmental resource management.
“With its built in visual and multi-spectral sensors, and its Quick Look feature that lets users see a visual orthomosaic and an NDVI of the area they just flew within minutes of landing, Quantix Mapper is also perfectly suited for agriculture,” says Imbasciani. “Out of the box, I think the Quantix Mapper will be the perfect solution for anyone looking for a professional caliber drone that covers a lot of ground affordably, and is ridiculously simple to use.”
The Draganfly Value Add
“As one of the longest continually operating commercial UAS manufacturers in the world, Draganfly brings a history of exceptional customer service, a portfolio of IP, and a profound amount of technological UAS development know-how to the table,” says Imbasciani. “…Our combined understanding of the technical and commercial needs of the markets we serve makes us an extremely valuable partner in the space.”
It’s a good deal for both partners – and it has the potential to grow.”The current phase of the agreement teams Draganfly with AV for the commercial sale and distribution of the Quantix Mapper system worldwide. Thanks to our teams exceptional past performance on other contract engineering projects however, we feel Draganfly is uniquely positioned to support AV in the development of future versions of Quantix Mapper, as well as any new projects or products we may mutually agree to.”
The Commercial Market
While the defense market for UAV solutions has always been robust, enterprise and commercial markets are growing faster than the defense sector, according to many market researchers. The combined value of commercial verticals like agriculture, mining, construction and oil and gas represent a vast market.
“These markets are global, growing, and collectively they represent billions of dollars in opportunity. We can deliver significant shareholder value by simply achieving single digit market share within any of the verticals we’re targeting,” says Imbasciani. “Of course, we’re planning on doing more than that.”
The Current Crisis: “Today is no different.”
While global industry is in a state of upheaval due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, Imbasciani says that it’s important for companies like Draganfly to keep doing business and keep serving customers. “In times of crisis core elements of our society must find ways to press on,” says Imbasciani. “The agriculture industry still needs to plant, grow, and harvest. Energy plants, transportation routes, and other critical elements of our infrastructure still need monitoring and inspecting. Construction, environmental, and health related projects must go on.”
“For 22 years our systems have been helping Public Safety and others do more with less, safely and confidently. Today is no different. In order to keep ourselves and those we support in the community healthy, we are heeding the governments recommended safety precautions at work and at home. At the same time, we are confident we will all get through this crisis, and we anticipate there will be a surge in demand as business returns to normal,” Imbasciani explains. “To be in position to meet that demand, we are increasing focus on our internal operations, and we are working proactively with our customers and dealer partners, to ensure they are able to get access to our solutions now.”