UAV technology is a tool. And like a tool, the real value in a UAV is not so much about how you use it but what you can build with it. This is the vision Boston, MA-based Top Flight Technology has for the future of drones. It’s not about takeoff, flying and landing- its about gathering data and using that data to complete a job.
The first step in Top Flight Tech’s quest to bring efficient UAV solutions to market is to make sure the drone flies itself.
“Most of the crashes we have seen are because of a human forgetting to flip a switch,” Top Flight’s CEO Long Phan told Dronelife.
His plan is to simplify drone control to the most basic level.
“Our drone philosophy is that even an iPad is too complex,” he said, “so our drones will be controlled by pre-programmed cartridges. Just like an old Super Nintendo. You plug in the cartridge and it runs a program.”
For example, if you want a drone to circle a pond on a golf course to get a sense of the aviary population, you would plug in the cartridge labeled “Duck Hunt.”
The program would know the GPS coordinates of the pond and its size so all you do is plug in the cartridge, flip the on switch and the drone would do its flight and come back.
But this example is only a part of Top Flight Tech’s grand vision.
“It’s about active applications versus passive applications,” Phan explained. “Taking photographs is passive. It can be useful… A farmer can send a drone out and take pictures that will tell them which parts of their field need water, but it’s only half of the solution. You need to actually take the water to the field…If you had another drone or some sort of robot that was part of the same system and could then go to those spots and put the water there, you would have an end to end solution.”
In order to build this solution, Phan has identified two limitations of UAV technology his team is working to conquer: flight time and payload.
The average consumer quad or hexacopter has at most 30 minutes of flight time and can carry a payload of only a couple pounds.
Top Flight Tech has broken the proverbial ceiling for consumer drones (not any physical ceilings, lest the FAA get involved) by building hybrid drones that run on gas as well as electricity and can get up to two hours of flight time.
“Once you solve the issues of payload and endurance,” Phan said, “it enables us to put sprayers or other farm equipment on a drone which can go out and spray the field.”
The Top Flight Tech solution isn’t a single-drone endeavor. To maximize the potential of UAV technology, Phan believes we will need fleets of drones that far exceed the capabilities of today’s commercial offerings.
For more about Top Flight Technology, watch their demo video below and check them out at DEMO 2014 next month in San Jose.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com