Lately, it seems like everyone is clamoring to get a piece of the drone industry in the U.S. From exciting startups turning drone footage into highly intelligent and useful data for industrial businesses, to venture capitalists hoping to cash in on the whole craze, it seems the U.S. is a proverbial emerald city for unmanned aerial vehicles–until now.
Berlin-based Skysense is bringing the fruitful drone industry to Europe with its autonomous drone-charging solution. Headed by Andrea Puiatti, Skysense seeks to upend the tenuous nature of using drones for commercial use with its drone-charging station.
Currently, most drones can only operate for 20 to 30 minutes before needing to land and recharge. Larger and heavier drones drain even more battery power and need to be charged more often. Natural elements also take a toll on battery power–the windier conditions are, the shorter the battery life. Once landed, drone operators then have to manually remove the drone battery and plug it into a charging source. When out in a remote area or away from an electrical source, this can be an extremely disruptive process.
Skysense is changing this process with its fast-charging, lightweight, and easy-to-use drone charging stations, which eliminate the need for the arduous process of removing batteries from a drone every time they run out. One simply lands the drone on the charging pad (position of the drone does not matter) and waits until a full charge is reached. Charge times vary based on battery type and size, but Skysense can charge drones with up to 20Ah and with an average of only 50 grams (1.8 oz.) of added payload on the drone.
Puiatti, a drone enthusiast himself, founded Skysense in 2014 when commercial drones were still just an extension of the hobby market. He felt the pain of short flight times and long charge times, and knew that if drones were to be truly autonomous, their charging systems needed to be, too.
“All commercial drone automation scenarios required people at every flight to manually bring drones in the field, recharge and manage the batteries,” he said. “I couldn’t believe nobody had developed a solution to remove human intervention from drone deployments to make them economically scalable. I thought that, without a dedicated charging infrastructure in place, drones could fulfill just half the dream of truly, unmanned aerial use for commercial purposes.”
Thus, Skysense was born to fill this need. In 2014, Puiatti pitched his idea to the Berlin Hardware Accelertor, won the Samsung Award and was granted his first round of funding. That same year, the first prototype was designed, and the company had already received its first customer. However, despite already having customers lining up for Skysense’s prototype, it quickly became apparent that the European market didn’t have as deep an understanding of the drone industry as the U.S.
“We might as well have been making technology from Star Wars, as far as they were concerned,” recounts Puiatti. So, with the last $5,000 USD left in the company’s bank account, Puiatti and his team headed to California, where they met with as many drone companies and startups as they could.
It didn’t take long for other companies to take notice of Skysense’s innovation in drone battery management. Soon, organizations like GoogleX, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and even the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency were knocking at its door. The company even earned funding from Qualcomm Ventures and Techstars, and in 2016 won first place in NASA’s WorldWind Europa Challenge.
“That was really the incipit,” Puiatti said. “I had never been ‘all in’ like that before.”
Now, the company is quickly becoming a leader in the small (but quickly expanding) drone charging market, and has received business from around the world. Today, Skysense sells three main charging products: an indoor charging pad (its flagship product), and outdoor charging pad (the most powerful on the market), and a droneport–a fully autonomous drone hangar, designed to store and protect drones from harsh environments.
PwC values the global market for commercial drone applications to be 127Bn. If that’s the case, we’re about to enter an era of high-demand for autonomous drone charging, and Skysense will be there, fully prepared, to meet that demand.