During an afternoon call with me, Airmada CEO Dan Danay, the ex-Israeli Naval Officer and Sloan School of Business grad, outlined his autonomous drone product offering. As he and co-founder Boris Lipchin are preparing for Y Combinator Demo Day next week, the YC winter class of ’16 member told me “Drones are hard to use but they have potential, so we want to remove cost and friction from commercial use of drones.”
There are many problems that are currently holding back commercial use of drones. You have to know how to fly them or set up autonomous flight. You have to transport them to the right location where they are needed. You need qualified inspection and maintenance.
Despite these barriers, there are many companies still in need of drones for everything from precision agriculture, to aerial photography to small maritime deliveries.
Danay and Lipchin are aiming at all of these categories with their offering, however maritime deliveries are especially ripe for disruption, according to the duo.
The problem (one that Danay has witnessed himself as a naval officer) is that ships near port are in constant need of supplies, large and small. However the price of delivering small goods—medical supplies, navigation charts, sim cards, fuel samples—costs the same as delivering large goods like steel or machinery.
This is because the deployment of a launch boat to deliver the goods is the same whether the items are large or small and that cost gets passed on to the customer. At a place like the Panama Canal, it can cost a minimum of $600 for a single delivery, regardless of size, and can get as high as $3000 depending on timing and traffic.
Their solution is to use small drones to deliver small things at a fraction of the cost and let the launch boats continue to deliver larger items.
To avoid the previously mentioned problems holding drones back from commercial use, Airmada have developed an enclosed, automated drone terminal. This terminal contains everything needed to automatically launch, maintain, recharge, inspect and protect drones used for delivery, photography or other drone-assigned tasks.
For delivery agents who are interested in beginning to deliver maritime supplies or conduct aerial photography for clients, an Airmada drone terminal can be delivered to their location and requires little interaction on their part.
When a delivery needs to be made, or when photographs or video need captured, the terminal opens up, the drone flies out on a GPS-informed programmed path, delivers the goods or conducts video capture, returns to the terminal, lands inside and machinery inside automatically replaces batteries from an array in side, it is inspected and is ready for its next task.
It sounds like something from The Jetsons.
Danay explained to me that for one-off maritime parcel deliveries, the drones can drop the items from two meters—even for moving boats. For larger craft that may require many deliveries, a second terminal can be installed for more routine landings.
Danay further explained that Airmada can enter the market at half the cost of local launch boats—around $300 per delivery and in about a tenth of the time.
The team have already beta tested in Panama, Estonia and Iceland and have agent delivery signups already taking place in Panama.
According to Danay, they hope to make the days of hauling small parcel deliveries up the side of a ship in a bucket tied to a rope (something he personally witnessed many times), a thing of the past.
More info at airmada.com. They present Tuesday, March 22 during Y Combinator Demo Day.