Soaring to picture perfect heights in Canada’s unmanned vehicles industry
March 17, 2016— Waterloo, Ontario
Drones are commonly associated with military operations in far-off places. But increasingly, commercial industries and public safety agencies are discovering the benefits of this technology, often much closer to home.
For Waterloo's Aeryon Labs Inc., the emerging market for small, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) presented an opportunity for innovation and expansion into different sectors. To capitalize, the company turned to the National Research Council of Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) for help, and has since emerged as a global leader in the industry.
Sky high collaboration
Aeryon Labs began working with NRC-IRAP in 2007, the year it was founded and began developing its first product, the Aeryon Scout, for which it received advice and funding. By late 2014, the firm saw an opportunity to meet the needs of its growing customer base by expanding its portfolio of camera payload offerings on their UAVs – important for applications in a number of industries.
To develop this payload, Aeryon worked with NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor Richard Adair. Adair helped secure funding for Aeryon to design and develop its HDZoom30 imaging payload, allowing for a new level of airborne data capture capability. Using the 30x optical zoom and 20 megapixel resolution, it can capture extremely fine detail, such as the serial number on an electrical power line insulator from a safe distance of 30 metres. It can also read a license plate or recognize a face from 300 metres, providing operators a safe and more covert alternative to traditional pursuit or recording methods.
Sean McCabe, Aeryon's VP Engineering, said NRC-IRAP's financial support for the development of the payload helped expand the engineering team and deliver the technology to its customers earlier.
"The funding gave us the opportunity to accelerate our research, increase resources and get the payload to market sooner," he said. "Two thirds of the HDZoom30 project was funded by NRC-IRAP, which helped ensure our success."
Aeryon Labs is helping put Canadian innovation on the map, with its products now in use in 35 countries worldwide, said McCabe. The firm continues to deliver reliable but rugged and easy-to-use sUAVs to commercial, public safety and military markets. Its Skyranger is designed to operate with minimal training, and can fly in extreme environmental conditions, including winds of up to 90km/h.
"Tasks that once typically required a helicopter pilot and an inspection crew can now be completed by a single UAV operator using the SkyRanger with the HDZoom30 payload," said McCabe. "The costs and risk factors for companies and their employees have been dramatically reduced."
"The funding gave us the opportunity to accelerate our research, increase resources and get the payload to market sooner. Two thirds of the HDZoom30 project was funded by NRC-IRAP, which helped ensure our success."
Recently, the SkyRanger was recognized as the first sUAV to conform to Transport Canada requirements for UAV airworthiness and design, meaning that organizations using it fulfilled a critical element of the department's application process to obtain a "Special Flight Operations Certificate," necessary for all UAV operators.
"We will look to NRC-IRAP again for support with future projects," McCabe said.
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