The following post is a guest column from Chidubem Ezinne, Software Engineer, drone enthusiast, and founder and creator of TestingAlpha. The views of guest posters belong to the author and are not necessarily reflective of TheDroneGirl.com.
This past year, the Drone Racing League has been all over the news, from ESPN to Wired. I talked with Ben Johnson, head of communications and a spokesperson for the Drone Racing League. The Drone Racing League is a premier racing league which has secured over $10 million in funding to help bring Drone Racing to the masses.
Chidubem (CJ) Ezinne: How does one become a racer in the Drone Racing League?
Perhaps you can point me to someone in San Francisco, my home town. First I’m 64 and just started flying quad copters. I’m in a public park in San Francisco flying my quad copter and get told I can’t fly there. I go online and can’t find a blog or forum to connect with other quad operators. Do you know of any active site where I can talk to other ‘flyers’? I’m not real happy since my park has zero people, tons of space and I’m not a safety hazard. Ugh!
-Seeking Out Flying space in SF
Thanks for your question — which seems to actually be twofold. The problem here is 1. you need some flying buddies, and 2. You don’t know how to approach people saying your flying is illegal, or even if it is illegal.
My question is in regards to the Phantom 4. I will be purchasing a drone and have never flown one before. The 4 sounds great but I am concerned about not being able to upgrade cameras, etc because of the design. I would like to use my investment money wisely. Do you have any input into this issue?
From founding a luxury shoe company to making drones, French businessman and Parrot CEO Henri Seydoux is a serial entrepreneur.
Seydoux founded luxury goods company Christian Louboutin — the company famous for the iconic, red-soled pumps — a 3-D imaging company, and wireless products manufacturing company Parrot which makes everything from a self-watering flower pot to the Bebop drone.
With the launch of the $549 Parrot Bebop 2, the next generation of Parrot’s Bebop drone that can stay in the air twice as long as the former version, Seydoux is inching more into the drone world. Parrot acquired commercial drone company senseFly in 2012, and launched a new lineup of $99 “MiniDrones” earlier this year to target the toy market. Parrot’s drone revenues made up 57% of the company’s revenue for the third quarter of 2015.
Seydoux offered up some advice on business, investing, drones, and his biggest money mistake:
Drone Girl: You’re well-known for founding Christian Louboutin, the company that makes the luxury, red-soled shoes. How do you go from selling shoes to selling drones?
Henri Seydoux: Shoes were a friendship. Christian Louboutin (the designer behind the company) was a friend. With drones, it’s a completely different market, but in the end, they’re consumer products. You’re selling an end-product to a user, and I’m always trying to find innovative products.
Drone Girl: [Parrot] was really the first company to manufacture consumer-oriented, ready-to-fly drones. What struck you about the idea of manufacturing drones?
Seydoux: It was really about the idea that you can turn telecoms into toys. Ten years ago it would be crazy to have a camera on a phone, and the first cameras were so bad. But now, we’re putting cameras in the sky. I’m just always looking for the craziest ideas. The thing is, for me, they’re not crazy.
Lipos (the types of batteries on most drones) are serious business. They are highly volatile, prone to damage and can cause fires. Despite highly responsible ownership, a lipo battery is still thought to be the cause of a fire that burned down an RC shop in San Diego, and numerous videos show other accidents involving lips.
Luckily, drone makers including DJI and Yuneec have recently started creating “Smart Batteries,” meaning they display remaining battery capacity. Additionally, power management is handled internally so the battery doesn’t require a separate balance lead to control charging.
What is the difference between drones and remote controlled aircraft? What is the inflection where drones have now catapulted into this new category that is causing these new regulatory hurdles?
An audience member posed the question during a town hall style session at the Drone World Expo in San Jose. Here’s the response from Gretchen West, a senior advisor with Hogan Lovells.
Gretchen West: This industry has had an identity crisis for many, many years. The term drone was used years ago by the military to talk about unsophisticated targets and has evolved into a slang word used today. Many – especially with military or government backgrounds – have fought against using the term drone to describe the technology, but “drone” is now embedded and very unlikely to change.
It’s not about the vehicle itself. It’s about how it’s used, and that’s how the regulations have been formed.
There really is no difference between a drone and a remote controlled aircraft as far as regulations go from a terminology standpoint. If you’re flying for sport, you’re classified as a hobbyist. The second you’re flying that same exact aircraft and make money off it – you’re doing cinematography, something with agriculture – that becomes a commercial operation and then it falls under the FAA bucket.
So the vehicle you’re flying or what it’s called isn’t what differentiates, it’s how you’re using it. And there is a lot of grey area between commercial and recreational use which the FAA is working to better define.
It’s an identity crisis in terminology, but it comes down to the use case.
How to win a huge investment on the TV show “Shark Tank”?
Try pitching Mark Cuban a “PhoneDrone,” a flying robot that operates via your smartphone. It worked for xCraft’s Charles Manning and JD Claridge, creators of the X PlusOne drone and the PhoneDrone.
The two pitched their drone startup on season seven of ABC’s DIS, -2.22% “Shark Tank,” seeking $500,000 for 20% equity in their company, which would have valued it at $2.5 million. They walked away with $1.5 million for 25% equity in a unanimous investment involving every single “Shark Tank” judge in the episode: Mark Cuban, Daymond John, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner and Robert Herjavec — a rare feat on the show. The “Shark Tank” investment values the company at $6 million.
XCraft creates both the X PlusOne, a hybrid, professional-grade drone that both hovers and can fly at speeds greater than 60 miles an hour, and the PhoneDrone, a device that gives your smartphone wings, allowing it to stream video through Periscope or download it straight to the phone.
Though XCraft founder JD Claridge says he sees long-term growth in the commercial drone market, it was the consumer-targeted PhoneDrone that really won over the sharks. Claridge talked with MarketWatch about his business and what it’s like to land a deal on “Shark Tank.”
MarketWatch: Why do you think your company won on “Shark Tank”?
Claridge: Drones are hot. A lot of investors are interested in them now.
Our strategy was to show we’re more than just a product. We’re a powerful team in the founding members. I’m the nerd on the aerospace side, the inventor. I brought on Charles Manning as the business development guy — he’s the business smarts, but his background is in software. We wanted to make sure the sharks understood that.
MarketWatch: Were you gunning for a particular shark?
Claridge: My partner and I had targeted Cuban. He was our first pick if we had a choice, just because of his connections with a lot of other companies in the tech space. Ironically he was one of the last ones to join in.
Monarch just launched a project to aerially survey and 3D map the 19th-century mining town of Bodie, California, and original California Gold Rush town that was the vibrant gem of the Wild West and now is kept in a state of ‘arrested decay.’ Monarch used high precision UAVs to help preserve data about the historic town, using the company’s custom-built drone and 3D-printed gimbal.
Drone Girl: How did you get into drones?
Eileen Shibley: 5 or 7 years before I retired from defense, I was selected to run the unmanned systems division at the navy’s premiere manufacturing site for drone integration in defense. We worked with every size drone – from teeny ones to the Predator. That’s when I became aware that I had devoted my career to defense, but when I retired I truly wanted to make a difference. I thought, I know what these things are capable of. I know these things can make a huge difference win the way we do things.
DG: And then?
ES: I led the California delegation to try to get California named as (one of the six drone) test sites. I was barely retired and I was asked to lead this delegation. I thought I should give something back since I’ve gotten so much from this community. When we weren’t selected, I figured, what am I going to do now?
DG: So now you’re mapping the old western town of Bodie.
ES: Bodie Stegosaurus Park — it was one of those thriving places in the 1880s. It became a huge thriving metropolis in no time at all. But now it’s old, it’s decaying. The state has made it a state park and they’re trying to preserve it. They put a request in to the FAA that Monarch be allowed to take our drone to Bodie and map it for them.