News, Insights and Stories from the Australian and New Zealand tech ecosystem.

Sydney startup Propeller Aero launches AeroPoints, a world first in drone data capturing technology

Though the commercialisation of drone technology in Australia has been slow, around the world we are seeing trial test runs of concepts that look to make drones a part of everyday life. In the last few months drone startup Flirtey has been working with companies like 7-Eleven and Dominos to experiment with the commercial delivery of pizzas and slurpees to households around the US and New Zealand.

While Australian consumers wait patiently for their drone delivery pizza experience, there are other sectors around the country that have already adopted drone technology. Drone use in Australia is widespread in the farming and mining sectors – from Wagga Wagga to the Hunter Valley, drones are helping to improve the way traditional industries function. Drones are being used to help farmers manage things like pest control and construction workers collect data around quarries and mines.

Drones capture many sets of data, which generate a huge amount of information. However, accessing that data and transferring it onto a hard drive is not as easy as simply uploading it to a computer. The large amount of data that needs to be transferred has caused computers to crash and overload.

This is where Sydney drone startup Propeller Aero comes in. The startup has created an online interface that allows companies to upload and access the data captured by their drones. The cloud-based data platform is a processing engine that helps people upload, visualise and make sense of their drone data in with 3D images.

Since launch in February this year, cofounders Francis Vierboom and Rory San Miguel have been working on creating a new product called AeroPoints to help different industries capture and survey drone data mapping. AeroPoints are portable ground control markers that look to increase the accuracy of drone data capturing and also increase the technology’s commercial adoption across the world.

“Drones can fly over a site and capture incredibly valuable data for surveyors and engineers in just minutes. But if you want accurate data, you need to spend hours on site creating ground control points before the drone flight. These calibration points are critical for a reliable results, but they add a significant amount of time, labour and expense,’” said San Miguel.

Ground control requires setting up precise geolocation positions and typically uses expensive surveying equipment to do so. This requires manual labor and securing visible ground markers on an exact pre-marked GPS point.

To alleviate the cost and manual labour associated with data mapping, AeroPoints are visible from the air and drones can quickly capture each point down to 2cm absolute accuracy.

AeroPoints work with any camera or drone, and integrate seamlessly with Propeller’s data platform and processing engine. The ground control markers are solar-powered, durable and weather-resistant, and don’t require any on-site connection.

To use AeroPoints, customers position them accordingly, and then fly over their drone to capture positional data. The points automatically connect to a wireless or mobile hotspot and when back in range can upload all data sets to the Propeller Aero site.

Vierboom explained that because AeroPoints are used on construction and mining sites, they have been designed for endurance and durability. With no sun at all AeroPoints can run for two weeks straight and can also be left outside in the dust and sand for long periods of time.

“We’ve given them a pretty hard run so far and they keep holding up. We’ve driven over them with cars and trucks to try and crack the solar panels. We’ve gone for a really rugged design, they can take a bit of a beating,” he said.

Propeller Aero has already raised just over $1 million and is now at the stage of growing its customer base around Australia. Last month the startup announced a partnership with DJI, one of the world’s largest drone companies.

“It’s a great nod of confidence for an Australian startup working with the world’s biggest drone company,” said San Miguel.

“At the same time I think it’s great for us because it’s exactly what we believed about where it’s going. Drone technology has become simple and affordable and this makes getting really accurate results more affordable as well.”

San Miguel explained that the AeroPoints technology is where he sees opportunities for the drone industry in Australia. In just a month’s time San Miguel said the airspace regulator rules will be enforced, which will allow anyone to fly a drone for commercial purposes in Australia- of course under reasonable conditions.

Image: Francis Vierboom and Rory San Miguel. Source: Supplied.

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