Randall Warnas, most recently head of Global Industrial sUAS at thermal sensor leader FLIR, has been named CEO at Autel Robotics, global drone manufacturer. The drone industry influencer spoke with DRONELIFE about drone technology, platform security, and building a career in the industry.
“Visionary” is a word sometimes overplayed in the drone industry: but for Randall Warnas, who started what was to become one of the largest brick and mortar drone stores in the world back in 2014, the description fits. When his drone store got the attention of DJI, he joined the largest drone manufacturer in the world to begin their enterprise business – now DJI’s fastest growing business. At FLIR, Warnas became the recognized global expert in a wide variety of commercial applications using thermal sensors: from public safety to construction, thermal imaging brought enterprise drone use to new levels.
Now, at Autel Robotics, the drone industry gets a CEO who has come up through the trenches – on the front line for the evolution of commercial drones and commercial drone customers.
“I come from a pretty humble background – and that allows me to pick up the phone or respond to an email no matter who it is from: somebody who just wants to troubleshoot their airframe, or someone who has a bigger opportunity,” says Warnas. “That’s been my secret sauce from the beginning.”
“At DJI, I had a lot of doors opened to me: and at FLIR, I’ve been able to talk to most of the drone manufacturers in the world. I’ve worked with end users, seeing how they solve problems. I was lucky to be part of the industry when this technology was really being pioneered and democratized – I’ve always been trying to put drones in as many hands as possible.”
Listening to customers has been the way Warnas built his career from the early days of running a drone retail store – and he believes that listening will help Autel overcome the biggest challenges facing the industry today.
Autel’s EVO platform has garnered great reviews and significant press as a competitor to the DJI Mavic: a high quality, lower cost commercial aircraft. The technology is already well respected and made in the U.S. at Autel’s Bothell, WA manufacturing plant, but Warnas has a clear and unequivocal goal: to establish Autel drones as a “trusted” platform for use anywhere in the world. It’s a complex issue, but one that Warnas says Autel is ready and willing to work on.
“We need to figure out what it means to have truly secure drones, and to use them in sensitive areas without risk. We need to understand what a ‘secure platform’ means,” he says. “It’s our goal to check every box to be considered a trusted airframe. We’re trying to transcend the political aspect and find a way that we can all win – with technology that’s lower priced, and completely trusted.”
“Through listening we are going to get there, by figuring out what people really need,” says Warnas. “And the willingness and the opportunity to do that at Autel is almost unprecedented.”
Warnas is excited to be making this move at a pivotal point in time – for the drone industry and for Autel. “One of my first priorities is to get the drone world to realize the quality of Autel’s technology,” says Warnas. “I am going to build trust with a brand that has validity – it’s a unique opportunity. We’re going to do whatever it takes to be the trusted solution around the world… I want to put my name and my experience on the line to bring this technology forward.”
“We’re low-cost, we offer excellent technology – it’s a really unique opportunity and the timing is perfect,” he says. “I’m in the industry, I’ve been in the trenches, I know the challenges that people face.
“I’m saying we can do this better than anyone else because we’ve been listening.”
With the pandemic finally ending, Warnas says that the industry has the opportunity to get together and solve problems again – and he’s looking forward as CEO at Autel Robotics to working with the users on the front line to overcome the barriers that remain to drone adoption. “I’ve seen how far we’ve come – and I can see how far we can go,” says Warnas.
“We are at a point where this technology can start maturing, and we can’t take a step backwards. The technology is already there to make big strides towards the future,” he says. “We’re helping the overall well-being of our world through drone technology – this is going to be the future.
“We don’t need to keep waiting. There’s an opportunity for collaboration, there’s an opportunity for trust… The time to move forward is now.”
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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