A tale of Kiwi ingenuity taking on the world has come true for five blokes headquartered in a shed just outside Hastings.
Altus Unmanned Aerial Solutions is designing and assembling drones that combine ruggedness with cutting-edge technology, and has recently found a foothold in the United States market.
The five blokes, all of whom have a background in aviation and unmanned flight technology, came together late last year and saw the niche for robust, precision-designed drones.
Their extra safety features – including a nifty gas-fired parachute – have meant they have won approval to fly where other drones have not, particularly over crowds of people.
“We had our first trade show in the US in July,” business development manager Simon Morris said. “We sold three straight away, and we have orders for another 4-5. And really, we haven’t even really properly announced our presence over there yet.”
Altus makes two models, varying in cost between $30,000 and $60,000, and will launch a third, larger, one next month in Las Vegas.
The key to its success is the technology behind the parachute, which fires automatically if something goes awry, such as a loss of power.
Other drones deployed parachutes, but they tended to be fired by explosives, meaning the drones could not be taken on a plane, “or they use a spring and kind of just flop out. Neither is ideal,” Morris said.
But Altus’s parachute, which is only used when all other safety steps, including two auto-pilots, have failed, is fired with a small CO₂ cylinder.
“That means it drags the chute out to full extension really quickly. It can catch the weight of the machine when it’s just 7-8 metres above the ground.
“We get exemptions and permission to fly over crowds and over the public, which were in the past considered too dangerous.
“The technology is a leap ahead of the rest of the parachute market. So we’ve got a patent on that for the US.”
The New Zealand drone industry had been going for longer than those elsewhere, including the US, and was seen as being a leader, Morris said.
“It’s been almost endorsed by CAA here. They’re really collaborative, meaning there is an environment where you can go out and do stuff. It’s not like that in the US, for example.
“We’ve got NZ Trade and Enterprise funding and we’re making a big push into the US at the moment and have signed up a big partner in Kansas, which is the home of Cessna and Learjet, it’s a real hub of aviation.”
Altus had sold “about 20” drones to date.