From RICHMONDINNO By Siona Peterous
This is part of our Inno on the Road Series, where we explore and showcase a neighboring ecosystem. Inno on the Road: Hampton Roads, which will feature a couple new stories a month and an event in May, is presented by BDO.
When Tom Walker started DroneUp in 2016, he had a clear vision in mind: to create the go-to platform for companies and contractors that needed to find pilots for the ever-growing fleet of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones.
“I wanted us to manage a large group of professional drone pilots that could do anything from simple aerial photography to getting the visuals needed for the inspections of cell towers or bridges,” Walker said.
Today, the Virginia Beach-based company is one of the largest in its field of unmanned systems – with more than 10,000 pilots globally. A small staff is based within the Hampton Roads region, but the majority of DroneUp workers are spread throughout 51 countries.
Yet because the Hampton Roads region offers a wide range of different climates, it has been the ideal environment to build DroneUp in, allowing the company to test the performance of its equipment in all types of weather.
Before launching DroneUp, Walker spent 20 years as president of the technology company WebTek Inc, which was a role he transitioned into after nearly 20 years in the Navy. He says the background in innovative technology made him aware of the gap in the emerging UAS industry that needed to be filled.
“We focused on the reality that there is always going to be a person remotely operating the drones,” Walker said, “Secondly, very few organizations would have the staff to respond to all of their drones needs so it would be outsourced.”
DroneUp uses the Mission Match platform in conjunction with its smartphone app to keep a list of pilots with their specific skill sets. That registry is then used to locate and deploy pilots based on the needs and location of clients. All that said, DroneUp is still more than just pilot deployment.
“What people often don’t realize is that the drone industry is more about data collection and planning than anything else,” Walked explained. “Someone has to create a pre-programmed flight plan, someone has to review the data that is collected, someone has to verify information so our operation is also focused on that.”
DroneUp has serviced both commercial companies and public institution entities over the years, but a contract win a few months ago will greatly expand the business’ access to government groups, institutions of higher education and public safety organizations.
In August 2019, it was announced that DroneUp was awarded the NASPO ValuePoint Contract, a multi-state contract headed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. According to a spokesperson, DroneUp has the exclusive right to provide emergency drone support services, law enforcement support services, agriculture, and gaming support, mapping data services and marketing services to various public institutions in all 50 states.
Walker said that the contract provides an opportunity for DroneUp to work alongside more public safety institutions and achieve a long-term goal of sustained, international growth.
“The industry is growing and thousands of pilots will be needed to manage hundreds of thousands of flights,” Walker said. “The long-term goal is for DroneUp to meet this demand and become the largest provider of unmanned systems operations in the world”
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