June 17, 2014
Why pilot a drone manually when it can pilot itself? That’s exactly what Ryan Baker, founder of Arch Aerial, was thinking when he designed a multi-rotor drone to take to an archaeological dig in Belize.
The terrain is harsh where he was headed, so he needed something that can loiter, hover, or auto-pilot a flight path outlined on Google Maps. And when all else failed, Baker wanted a drone that still had the option to be piloted manually.
What started as tool for archaeologists has morphed into something free from the strictures of definition. That is, the use case for the Arch Aerial drone isn’t relegated simply to excavation sites.
Vineyards can use them to check their sprawling land for irrigation leaks. Small businesses can use them to promote their company at an event like CES or SXSW.
But one of the most interesting applications is football: ESPN agrees with that. So, we sat down with Baker to hear more about the drones and how they ended up on an Outside the Lines (OTL) segment on May 25.
Tech Cocktail: What was your experience in Belize like with the drones?
Rayn Baker: Two and a half years ago my team and I began building the drones, but we spent the entire first year prototyping. After it was complete, the disassembled contents were spread out over 3 different bags – there were a lot of components to it.
We decided to take it with us to a mine excavation in Belize because our initial application was for archaeological digs. We put that prototype through some of the toughest conditions we could image before bringing it home, and it never broke down on us in the field.
Tech Cocktail: How did the drones go from archaeological digs to being featured on ESPN?
Baker: Obviously there are a lot of football programs in the state of Texas, and some of them have big budgets from their booster clubs. We used the drones to film practices for a few coaches that wanted to make video playbooks – a lot of whom were already using Huddle to organize a virtual playbook.
We began reaching out to more coaches at these schools, and then we reached out to big programs in Austin and Houston. The response was great, which led to us doing a panel on drones in sport s at SXSW where we were paired with Ty Hildebrant.
ESPN got wind of it and came film their segment at West Lake High School. We were able to talk about how they can utilize them, demo the coach and teaching coach how to fly the drone, and the whole range of things you can do with multi-rotor UAVs.
Tech Cocktail: Can you offer any advice to entrepreneurs who want to be successful in the hardware world?
Baker: I think the biggest and most helpful thing is that we had a real world problem we had to solve. We started out replacing aerial photographs at excavations we were getting from helium balloon rigs which might be cheaper, but not as effective.
Having the end goal to solve a real world problem is huge and I think that helps a lot with the direction starting out – have an end user and problem being solved before you even start designing. And then having a team that’s just as committed to each as well as the product is huge.
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