A COMPANY that manufactures unmanned aircraft has joined Rio Tinto and four cutting edge innovators in getting top marks on Brisbane City Council’s annual innovation scorecard.

V-TOL Aerospace was one of the first commercial suppliers to enter the industry in Australia and after five years of R&D is ready to roll out its suite of aerial surveillance products.

Co-founder Mark Xavier says that while unmanned aircraft products remain the company’s focus, operations have expanded to include the design, manufacturing, education and training, research and development subcomponents of the sector.

“V-TOL began as an importer of unmanned aerial vehicles. However we now have a finger in each part of the industry pie, from product development all the way through to providing operator training services. Our approach is very different to our competitors and even that of the large aerospace companies,” he says.

“What we’ve done is position V-TOL to be able to respond quickly to demands and opportunities in this emerging technology sector. Australia is now a world leader in the commercial unmanned aircraft industry. To sell a product, we’ve had to seed and help cultivate an industry.”

The company has identified markets in the military, police services, mining and agricultural sectors both domestically and offshore and now has an office in South-East Asia to identify agents in those countries.

“We see growth in providing development services and teaching customers how to use the technology overseas,” says Xavier.

The company is parenting with Queensland University of Technology and also with CASA to roll out training programs at Archerfield Airport.

Immediate commercial targets include the monitoring of broadacre wheat and cotton crops and large cattle stations to assess infrastructure upgrades.

Other companies identified on the scorecard include, public policy think tank Eidos Institute, Restaurant Two, the Electrical and Communications Association and housing developers Aspect Property Group were also among those found to be most innovative.

Restaurant Two founder David Pugh was also appointed Queensland’s ambassador chef for the second year running in 2011 and says innovation underpinned his restaurant’s longevity and continued popularity.

“The day of restaurants getting by purely on food and service is gone. People expect an overall package. You have to be innovative to stay that extra step ahead of the competition. I chase produce, I make a point of finding the best suppliers of the freshest produce and working with them,” he says.

“I’m always looking for new primary producers – they’re vital to my business. It can be fiddly, we’re talking about perhaps $100 worth of produce from one supplier who can’t guarantee his harvest.”

Rio Tinto’s head of innovation John McGagh says his aim is to garner the mining company a competitive advantage in developing ore bodies.

“Rio Tinto group produces metal and mineral products that are high in demand in modern societies. We need to foster even more innovative approaches to production to satisfy this demand into the future,” he says.

“The challenges that we envision for the mining industry in the decades to come are significant, but they’re also exciting. We’re meeting these challenges head on by developing and implementing step-by-step technologies.

“We’ve engaged in long-term partnerships with the world’s best researchers and suppliers and together we’re creating pioneering new technologies that will let Rio Tinto reduce its footprint and create safer, more efficient and intelligent mines.”

The scorecard tracked innovative activity reported by local businesses between January 2008 and January 2011.

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