Coming a long way from appearances in the Jetsons to having their main purpose in aerial photography, drones have now made it big time into the commercial and industrial space.
In just a few years, the commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry (colloquially, drones) has seen game-changing regulatory approval, technological progression, and market adoption.
Up until the FAA Part 107 passed in 2016, there was not even a body of law that regulated commercial drone usage in the US. Today, the FAA has not only pushed forward innovation programs (like the IPP), but also approved over 2500 waivers for businesses to operate beyond original Part 107 rules.
The most sought after regulatory privilege is flying a drone beyond where the operator can see it, referred to as Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS). BVLOS is the prerequisite to autonomous aerial operations — a key to the future of the industry. Although BVLOS is the hardest privilege to obtain, in recent months the industry is seeing new companies added to the roster on oftentimes a weekly basis, in the US and around the world.
With the maturation of technology and regulation, drones have spread their need to a larger and larger range of corporate fields, from industrial inspections to delivering your next Amazon package. The stage is set for commercial drones to emerge as a new vehicle class.
What’s in lack? The infrastructure. The equivalent of roads, gas stations, garages, and such for drones. This is where Birdstop comes in. A new wave of automation companies like Birdstop are working on the future mode of autonomous drone operations.
Drone Super Highway
Birdstop’s vision is to provide the backbone infrastructure for the unmanned aerial ecosystem. In other words, Birdstop wants to open up the skies to tens of thousands of drones that no longer need to be tied down to a pilot. Their audacious goal is a highway network made up of drone docking stations that spans across the nation, paving the path for a drone to travel from coast to coast.
In the least, the drone ecosystem of the future will have the equivalent of:
- Roads: Safe corridors to fly in.
- Gas Stations: Places to charge or swap batteries.
- Garages: Secure, weatherproof hangars to house drones.
Can all this be done in one fell swoop? Turns out docking station networks like those built by Birdstop could be a natural way to provide all these functions, reducing and eventually eliminating the need for human operators co-located with the drone.
How does it work?
Birdstop stations turn the highly manual drone operations of today into the Roomba type operations of tomorrow.
Birdstop’s product deploys the drone, maintains communication, exchanges and charges batteries, downloads the data for processing, and encloses the drone in a weatherproof hangar until next needed. Most drones can only stay 20 to 30 minutes in the air on one charge, making them hopeless without a means to rejuice. They are also vulnerable to the elements, without the means to survive out in the wilderness on their own.
The best part? Birdstop’s super highway isn‘t just limited to one drone. Actually, they aren‘t even responsible for making the drones. Just the infrastructure. Their system is compatible with multiple airframes. Their technology is estimated to work with 40% of the existing market, with a goal of 70% by the end of 2020.
Roomba for Industrial Inspection
At Birdstop, the super highway is the company’s North Star, but before they can build the future, they need a business model grounded in the present. They found this in conducting zero human onsite industrial monitoring and inspection.
The team leverages the Roomba style automated operation to increase safety and decrease cost, recruiting off-the-shelf drones and pairing them with reliable docking stations. The set-up is allowing Birdstop to tap into huge industrial and agricultural markets that currently spend tens of billions each year on inspection and monitoring.
Staff can be geographically detached from the drone while still maintaining control and monitoring their site or field. Staff can even be thousands of miles away — eventually leading to one person being in charge of a fleet of drones. Only when an issue is surfaced, does a human ever need to be deployed into the field to fix it. Otherwise, it’s humans at the office, and Birdstop powered drones in the field.
Drones with off-the-shelf visual and thermal sensors can cover a large amount of monitoring use cases today. These drones can be summoned with software, pointing towards a shared economy model once a critical mass is hit. Different users can tap into the same network of drones — the same Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) can be inspecting towers in the morning, looking at fields mid-day, and providing surveillance in the evening.
What does all this start looking like? Birdstop’s North Star — the drone super highway.
The Team Behind the Company
Founded in 2018 in Palo Alto, the former Google technology manager and current Birdstop CEO Keith Miao assembled an A-team drawing from Google, Tesla, NASA, and other heavy-weight institutions.
The company has been in stealth since its inception, but recently stepped out to participate at the Palo Alto Verizon 5G Labs and Alley pitch competition, where it took first prize. From their residency at Alley powered by Verizon’s All In Fellowship, Birdstop has had the opportunity to get a headstart on leveraging Verizon’s 5G technology for its future applications.
Since their win at the pitch competition, Birdstop has gone on to do pilots and testing for eager clients. The team is now completing its 5th iteration of a working product, with pre-orders and deposits stacked up.
What‘s next for Birdstop? Well, they plan to go-to-market later this year.