Tag Archives: LIDAR

Inspired Flight- An American Commercial Drone Company

I recently got wind of Inspired Flight, a drone company based in San Louis Obispo, California, through one of the many professional drone pilot groups I belong to on Facebook. Ever interested in new companies in this fascinating space, I had to do what bloggers do and reach out to them to get the inside scoop.

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If you’re not familiar with commercial-grade drones versus those you can grab at the hobby shop, the delta generally comes down to build quality, sophistication of components, variety of payloads that can be supported, and yes- cost. beyond the hobby space, drones are tools. They are analytics platforms. They are the building blocks of careers and success stories in a variety of realms from agriculture to videography to military operations.

Back to Inspired Flight.  One look at their latest IF750A drone, and it’s obvious that the company is serious about their commercial offerings.

IF750A

There’s a lot there to appreciate, and I got a good overview from Adam Bilmes, Inspired Flight’s Marketing Program Director. I hit Adam with my questions that come from the perspective of an FAA-certificated (yes that’s the word for it) Remote Pilot, but also one interested in seeing domestic drone companies gain share in a market dominated by foreign platforms. I hope to one day take an Inspired Flight bird for a spin, but meanwhile it’s exciting just to learn more about the company.

Here’s the discussion:

As a compan­­­y, what should people know and appreciate about Inspired Flight?

Inspired Flight is a San Luis Obispo, California based company that develops and produces various modular commercial quadcopter platforms. We take pride in being able to offer an American-made system at a price significantly lower and higher quality than that of overseas competitors. People should know that our mission is to provide safe, cost-effective, and reliable solutions for the endless applications that drones can provide for businesses and consumers.

Your gear looks beautiful, definite eye candy that’s easy to appreciate. Beyond the really slick appearance, what can you tell me about the IF750A’s performance specs and payload options?

The IF750 & IF750A platform was designed to be extremely modular and customizable. Payload options are easily swappable through our mounting system and the drone can carry a payload up to 2.5 kg (5.5 lb). A user can easily go from a professional DSLR camera being used for photogrammetry, to a LIDAR system being used to take 3D maps, to a thermal camera being used to monitor wildfires. This level of modularity and amount of payload options isn’t available in any other enterprise level drone. The IF750A has: an Intel Nuc running 4 Intel RealSense cameras for obstacle avoidance; Trimble RTK for extremely stable flight, geotagging of data and images, and position hold within 1 cm; full SDK integration with Sony cameras; a ballistic parachute recovery system; Auterion’s enterprise support system. [These specs are BEEFY -Lee]

The IF750A was fully designed with the end user in mind. That is why our platform has a virtually unlimited amount of payload options that a user can use for their particular need. We guarantee an optimal user experience right out of the box and a drone that will get whatever is required of it done.

What are key product differentiators that perspective buyers should really consider about Inspired Flight?

One of the biggest differentiators of Inspired Flight’s products that buyers should consider is that we are an American company through and through. The large majority of our parts are made in America and everything is designed and tested by us in San Luis Obispo, California. Besides that, they should know that there isn’t another commercial drone platform currently on the market with the level of modularity, programmability, and customizability as the ones offered by Inspired Flight.

What is Inspired Flight’s support model?

Our support model is something very important to us as we each have experienced the pains of having something go wrong with a drone and not being able to receive proper help from the manufacturer. We offer two levels of support, basic and advanced. Our basic support model includes a 90-day warranty on everything we sell with the ability to extend that to a full year simply by registering your purchase through us. If anything were to go wrong with your drone we will get you on the phone with our engineering team so that we can help you get your drone back in the air as soon as possible.

Our advanced support model works at an autonomous level with the drone itself. We integrated many diagnostic capabilities into the IF750A and with advanced support we can alert the user if anything was detected to be going wrong within the drone. For example, if the drone starts to develop an abnormal vibration the aircraft can autonomously alert our support staff and send us a flight log, thereby allowing us to preemptively offer replacement parts and or service before it causes a larger failure. With this advanced support we also offer free propeller replacements if they were to break and free parachute re-packing in the event of an emergency deployment.

Do you tend to sell more kits or assembled aircraft? What options tend to be the most popular?

We sell more fully assembled IF700 quadcopter compared to unassembled kits. The IF700 comes with a Pelican drone case, Pixhawk 2.1 flight controller, ballistic parachute and a retractable landing gear.

Our most exciting option is the ballistic parachute system, which is designed to protect the drone and the camera against crashes. Our rail mount system underneath the drone allows for the swapping of gimbal plates, which gives the user flexibility of payloads. Our retractable landing gear is another awesome feature as it provides 360 degree viewing capability.

However, the IF750A is soon to be the pinnacle product of our company. The IF750A combines the latest sensors such as Intel’s RealSense for obstacle avoidance, Trimble for high-precision navigation, Sony for professional imaging, and Airmap software integration for UTM services. It supports numerous applications with open interfaces, and has cutting edge software technology for flight.

Who are Inspired Flight’s main customers? Any markets you’re not quite in yet that you want to enter?

 Our main customers tend to be in the inspection, photography, and agriculture industries because our drones have the capability of switching between payloads to accommodate whatever application the user needs. A market that we are going after very aggressively right now is the security and defense industries as we see a lot of potential for our platform to be leveraged for those applications.

Our main markets are are in the advanced level imaging fields: professional aerial photography, surveying & mapping, security, and inspection. The IF750 is designed to carry a DSLR camera, Thermal Camera, full spectrum camera, and LIDAR; exploring more markets that utilize these technologies is our main priority right now. In the future we would like to go after heavier payloads like full cinema cameras, crop sprayers, and package delivery.

Finally- Any customer stories that you are particularly excited about?

One of our favorite current uses of our product is an educational curriculum a professor created around the IF700 at California University of Pennsylvania. The distinguished professor who teaches in the department of applied engineering and technology, created a course designed to introduce young engineers into the field of drones. By utilizing our unassembled IF700 kit, the students are able to receive a hands-on experience through building and understanding the components and technology necessary to get the quadcopters flying. The end result in being able to fly a drone that they personally put hours of effort into is a rewarding feeling for the students and is a great way to learn and have fun in the same process. Even if students suffer a crash, and specific components break on the drone, we are able to ship replacement parts the next day and get them back to flying as soon as possible. The modularity and payload capabilities are very important in a learning environment because it allows the students to be creative and think outside the box in terms of how they want to utilize the drones that they are responsible for creating.

Learn more at the company’s web site

And more about Auterion

A Brief But Deep Glimpse Into the Drone Industry Proper

When opportunity knocks, you answer the door. Have a look at this invite:
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Yup. I can do that… he said with his ‘lil heart all a-flutter. I’ve been following the evolution of commercial drone use (and generally all things under the drone sun) for a while now. I’ve written about drones as productivity tools, drones as network security threats, and even drones as a defense against the poaching of elephants. I have my own drones, and am an FAA-licensed Part 107 Remote Pilot.

You could kinda say that I’m into it- like all of it- when it comes to drones. I just find the entire paradigm incredibly fascinating, from benefits to concerns, and from politics to the tech side of it. So when a company like PrecisionHawk wants to talk, I definitely make the time.

Pat Lohman is one of the VPs at PrecisionHawk, and was an absolute gentleman in fielding my questions and lending his insider perspective, and we covered a lot of ground. As a company, PrecisionHawk will certainly sell you drones and high-end sensors. But Lohman educated me on the company’s role as an integrator who provides really powerful analysis for a number of verticals, including agriculture, construction, energy, insurance, and government.

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We talked about the specific cases that come with tower sites. It’s easy to sum it all up with “aerial inspection”, but that completely does a disservice to what’s really in play with PrecisionHawk’s services. Before tower construction, highly accurate land surveying is done from the air. Through tower construction, periodic inspections help ensure that the tower is being built right (and after-the-fact inspections for already-built towers reveal construction mistakes that can be dangerous or that work against the structure’s purpose). Once the tower is built, a range of services become relevant.

Picture 3D-mapping of a tower, and everything on it displayed with precise 3D point clouds (see this video primer on 3D point clouds from Vectorworks.) Now lets add in some of that analysis that is PrecisionHawk’s bread-and-butter: a given antenna on the tower is supposed to have a specific orientation to deliver the coverage it was installed to provide. That orientation is determined to be off a couple of degrees, and through various integrations with end customers’ support systems, an alert is generated and a truck gets rolled to adjust the antenna. “Value” takes on a lot of dimensions here, and Lohman stresses that PrecisionHawk is in the business of creating value. That doesn’t just happen because drones are in the air gathering data, but rather as a result of the sophisticated science that happens with that data. The real magic comes after the data collection and mapping is done, and the analytics kick in.

The most value comes from sound, streamlined processes that get the drones up and back down, crunch the data, and provide actionable intel. That’s what PrecisionHawk specializes in.

We spoke of different use cases and where the majority of time gets spent on each. For example, photo and video work is mostly all flying time, while sensor-based work is far more intensive in post processing, after the drones are back on the ground.

Lohman was most accommodating as I jumped around topics. We spoke of how the high and low ends of the drone device space are blurring, and how DJI pretty much owns the space at this point. I asked what impact the “no Chinese drones allowed” regulations have on PrecionHawk’s work with government agencies, and Lohman explained how the company will integrate any platform’s data, but the cost to do one-offs is more because of the added work involved when you get away from the mainstream DJI-type inputs. he was also clear in stressing that the drone itself is secondary in importance to the data it brings home.

I asked if fixed-wing drones have advantages over rotary crafts in different situations, and Lohman patiently gave me a quick history of fixed-wings having their start in agriculture because they could stay up longer when covering huge swaths of land, and how cell sites and structure inspection require the agility of the copters. Lohman also expects more hybrids- drones that can fly with fixed wings but vertically take off and land- to gain mass adoption.

We talked about what sensors see the most action. Here it’s still *mostly* visual missions flown, but thermal inspections are growing, and multi-spectral sensors are a key part of agricultural drone ops. LIDAR is the at the high end of expense when it comes to sensors, and you may pay upwards of $200K for LIDAR. That’s a big pricetag, but this is technology that not so long ago cost in the millions and was reserved for military use.

Finally, we bantered a little about the current fragmented nature of airspace regulation relating to drones (the current mismash of rules between the FAA and local governmental agencies is unsustainable), educational opportunities around unmanned aerial systems at schools like Embry-Riddle and Kansas State, and up-and-coming advocacy groups that seek to improve the commercial drone industry’s standing in a number of fronts. These include the Small UAV Coalition and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), and even Droners.io which is owned by PrecisionHawk and is a framework that gets a growing number of independent licensed drone pilots (like me) work- with common training, ground rules, approach, and respectable pay.