Meet the entrepreneur helping businesses tap into drone tech

Meet the entrepreneur helping businesses tap into drone tech

Just a few years ago you'd be lucky to pick up a commercial drone for about $10,000.

Now drones are available to almost anyone. The price has dropped, the tech has rapidly improved and its applications are seemingly endless.

These days, the only thing holding businesses back from exploring the opportunities of drone tech is the web of regulations that surround commercial operations.

In most cases, it's not simply enough to pick up a quality drone from a local electronics store and fly the beast around. Most commercial operations require licenses, permissions and training.

David Cole, the founder and CEO of FlyFreely recognised early on the potential of drones, but also the tonne of regulations hindering businesses from really tapping into the revolution.

FlyFreely is a startup which aims to make the process of flying drones commercially easier. The group seeks to remove the pain of conforming to stringent Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) regulations by training people and approving commercial flights under FlyFreely's license.

They manage issues such as compliance, regulations and risk management for customers. With FlyFreely, businesses don't have to employ a chief remote pilot or spend buckets of time and money going through the CASA approval process.

FlyFreely has developed a software platform to handle the flight planning and approval processes so customers can go from one pilot to a hundred pilots very rapidly.

David Cole says his business fulfils an important role in the drone sector, especially considering how fast the industry is moving right now.

"No one has really come up with a single solution, and the industry is moving so fast. Everyone's reacting to the changes, it's just evolving so quickly," says Cole.

"Initially there was a barrier to entry in terms of the craft they were quite expensive. If you lost one you'd lose $10,000. Now you can spend $400 to $500 and get something that's really quite capable and that's caused proliferation. Now everyone's trying to play catch up, trying to protect the public, but at the same time enable the commercial industry."

"That's where we wanted to build a platform that brings all the stakeholders together."

Cole's platform has already attracted major players in the mining, agriculture, and research sector on board including CSIRO, WATPAC and James Cook University.

"These companies are now getting the full benefit of using drones on a daily basis without the overhead," says Cole.

Despite the proliferation of drone tech over the last few years, Cole says most Australian businesses are still unaware of the benefits of drones in business.

"There is a lot of really exciting work going on in the space," says Cole.

"The drone obviously captures images but then it's about how you convert those images into something useful that businesses can use. When you combine it with data processing to produce a result that would normally take someone tens of hundreds of hours to produce that's where the real savings are."

For example, one of FlyFreely's clients is a startup in Brisbane that has used drone technology to capture images of telecommunication towers and turn those images into a 3D model.

From that model, the business detects rust on antennas and can produce automated reports on the quality of the tower.

FlyFreely is also currently working in the agriculture space, helping a company use drones in the detection of weeds. The client captures images of farmland and determines the species of the weed based on the structure of the leaves. Then the information gets turned into data which allows farmers to specifically target certain weeds.

For businesses wanting to jump on board with drones, Cole recommends owners take a bit of time to learn about the industry first.

"Take time to talk to people to find out what is the most appropriate craft for the job you're doing it's not a one size fits all situation there's certain craft that are good for certain applications," says Cole.

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