Draganfly, a drone industry player, has a 24-year history of pushing the boundaries of innovation. Focusing on delivering solutions, the company has achieved several industry firsts. Harry McNeil speaks with Draganfly CEO Cameron Chell discussing the company’s milestones, and the factors that distinguish Draganfly from its competitors.
Chell sheds light on the company’s focus on data-driven solutions and vision, and discusses Draganfly’s impact in the military environment, notable success stories in emergency response and landmine mapping, and the capabilities of its flagship drone, the Draganfly Commander.
Harry McNeil (HM): Draganfly has a 24-year history. Could you share some milestones that Draganfly has achieved during this time?
Cameron Chell (CC): 1998 was the first quadcopter drone sale on a commercial side that we’re aware of, and that was because it had a camera on it. We are the first company to put thermal cameras on quadcopters, which made us make sales into search and rescue.
Then we were the first company to put a stabilised video on cameras, which got the drones into doing the cinematography. So, the cornerstone milestone of the company is that a Draganfly drone was the first drone credited with saving a human life, and that was during a search and rescue mission by federal police.
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They used the thermal camera on a drone to find somebody who had wandered in a snowstorm from a single-car accident with head injuries and hypothermia, and that drone today sits on permanent display in the Smithsonian.
HM: Could you share any success stories that showcase the impact of Draganfly technology in the military environment?
CC: I think a couple of things worth noting is that we have done a fair amount of work for military contractors on specific projects, including autonomous delivery of blood on the battlefield.
So more recently, and notably, we provided medical response drones into Ukraine, where our drones were used to deliver emergency medical supplies, or emergency medical response, including things like insulin, into besieged areas of Ukraine.
HM: Draganfly fulfilled a second delivery of situational awareness drones to DSNs emergency services in Ukraine. How would they assist with the emergency response and landmine mapping operations?
CC: So there are two different examples there. The autonomous blood delivery that we did for a military contractor and the medical relief drones are one, and the other two that you just brought up are the situational awareness drones, a reconnaissance drones.
So, it’s high-flying, vertical takeoff, horizontal flight, very quiet, doesn’t have a big payload and provides emergency services with the ability when they know they’re going to be in an area for hours or days at a time, searching rubble.
Or, tending to survivors, they’ll put these up in the air to provide situational awareness, to see if there any combatants coming, what’s happening within, to see a one or two-kilometre progress, to see if we have to evacuate, it gives them real-time, Intel.
We do have other drones there that have thermal cameras on them. They’re using those thermal cameras to look for potential survivors in burned-out or blown-out areas. As it relates more specifically to landmine detection, we have a number of units over there that use a combination of thermal hyperspectral.
HM: Could you provide more information about the Draganfly Commander Aerial System and its military and government use case capabilities?
CC: This is our signature drone right now. It’s about the size of a coffee table, not a small drone. But interestingly enough, it’s about a 22-pound drone, and it can carry about 24 pounds comfortably.
It’s under 55 pounds more weight, so it’s still considered a small UAS, but it’s in the UAS world. It has the capabilities of what would be known as a heavy lift. It’s like the main utility vehicle; you can start strapping stuff on it. If you’re going to do different missions, you can customise it in different ways.
Dozens of payloads are already integrated into this, ranging from LIDAR systems to precision landing systems, magnetometer systems, GPS, AI coordination systems, and radio jamming systems, and it’s being integrated and built for this. It’s got a 55-minute flight time, and the big thing is, it’s got a 24-pound payload capacity.
You can put something like ground penetrating radar on this, which generally, you would have to put on a plane, or you’d have to put it on a very large heavy lift drone. We dubbed it The Swiss Army knife of drones. We see everything from tactical use to humanitarian use.
HM: What sets Draganfly apart from its competitors? How does the company continue to innovate and stay ahead in the market?
CC: What defines Dragonfly is our customer focus. Our company has moulded as the customer demands have matured, and what we see in the market today is that the customer wants a total solution.
They want to avoid getting a drone from this place and then have to figure out how to get a sensor from that place and how to do software from it. If we sell a dragonfly airframe, we still need to build all the sensors. We’re very happy and worked hard to integrate as many sensors and payloads as possible in the industry.
We want our drones to be flying all those different sensors, and we worked very hard to make that integration and interfacing with the customer so that it’s seamless for them. We’re an end-to-end solution.
Now, you know, Draganfly will be known as a drone company five years from now, but the reality is that we’re going to be a data company. Nothing collects data better than a drone.
You’re aerial. You’re in a 3D space, you’ve got a massive battery capacity, you’ve got unbelievable sensors that you can put on this thing, like literally in five minutes, you can collect more data about everything.
HM: How would this idea of Draganfly becoming a data company work in the defence space?
CC: The aerospace industry will become synonymous with data collection. The biggest application will be data collection when it’s much more efficient than trying to send people out on trucks or foot, and there’s data it can collect that you can’t do with other aerial platforms because it’s too expensive.
If I can put up a drone that can provide a dataset that another company can’t have or another government can’t get because it’s different, all of a sudden, I have a strategic advantage.
HM: What can we expect from Draganfly in terms of future developments?
CC: Draganfly will continue to look to build great airframes, and our airframes are dictated, quite frankly, by our customer’s data requirements. The advent of the commander three XL was data-driven.
But how do we put multiple sensors on one drone, a big payload with lots of battery power, so we don’t have to fly seven drone missions? And how can we in real time integrate that data to get real-time feedback from multiple sensors?
We will continue to see that focus around our product design, but the strategic advantage of building your hardware is that you can design backwards from the customer data requirements. We can manufacture it ourselves, giving us a critical strategic differentiator in building customer datasets.