Unmanned Valley – the field lab for sensor-based technologies located at the former Valkenburg naval air base in Katwijk, the Netherlands – welcomes the first companies, all active in the field of aerospace, drones and sensors. This represents an important step towards the development of a fully-fledged ecosystem for drones and other sensor-based innovations, and further strengthens the aerospace sector in the Netherlands.
Aerialtronics, Deck180, Drone Flight Company, Dutch Drone Academy, Elkay International (Europe) and Marshall Netherlands are the first companies to have already moved in. Within a few months, Atmos, Drone Light Labs and Mapture.ai will also relocate (parts of) their activities to the field lab, which offers in- and outdoor facilities for companies and knowledge institutes to develop, test and implement new sensor-based solutions.
The move of these companies marks the very successful 3000m2 redevelopment of the former naval air base’s workshop ‘Building 356’, which is now almost fully rented out. In a next phase, the Central Government Real Estate Agency (‘Rijksvastgoedbedrijf’) is expected to redevelop an additional 1700m2 of space to accommodate a mix of startups and scale-ups, mature companies and knowledge institutions.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in testing activities over the past months, but with the relocation of these first companies, Unmanned Valley really comes to life”, says Theo de Vries, program manager at Unmanned Valley. “Drones often only make headlines as a threat to air traffic or as a pizza delivery service. These companies show that things are different in reality and that the economic and social potential for the Netherlands can be enormous.”
De Vries speaks very highly of the Central Government Real Estate Agency: “During the COVID-19 crisis, the agency has kept up a brisk pace with the renovation and transformation work. It has now become a hotspot for collaboration, cross-fertilization and innovation, which inspired start-ups, scale-ups and others to such an extent that we have rented out about 90% of all available units well before the official completion date in July. The next phase can now be developed much earlier than anticipated.”
“Unmanned Valley has all the potential to develop into an international hotspot for unmanned and sensor-related activities. Innovative companies are looking for a well-developed ecosystem, not just a suitable office location. They want access to the right networks, technologies and talent”, says Rinke Zonneveld, director of the regional economic development agency InnovationQuarter. “The Netherlands and in particular the greater Rotterdam-The Hague area, enjoys an excellent reputation within the global aerospace industry. The aviation, space and drone sectors in our region are closely linked and all relevant players in education, research and commerce are actively working together in this highly developed metropolitan area.”
In addition to the Dutch start-ups and scale-ups that moved to Unmanned Valley, it indeed appears that the location also has international appeal; several foreign companies have relocated their activities to Katwijk, a coastal town located 16 kilometers north of The Hague.
The companies that are the first to establish themselves in Unmanned Valley
• Aerialtronics DV, since 2017 part of French company Drone Volt, develops drones and intelligent cameras for numerous applications; for surveying and supporting the fire brigade to inspection of wind turbines and high voltage powerlines. Recently Aerialtronics also developed software to check via existing networks of IP cameras whether people are wearing face masks.
• Atmos, was founded in 2013 and has developed a drone that combines the flexibility of a helicopter with the speed and range of an aircraft. As a result, it requires little space to take off and land vertically, but the drone can also efficiently cover long distances, properties that are essential for mapping larger areas. The company raised funding from Disruptive Technology Ventures in 2018 and 2020.
• Deck180 has been developing solutions since 2017 to enable multiple drones to operate autonomously in industrial and public environments at the same time.
• Drone Flight Company is the market leader in the use of drones for the business market and assists organizations in the integration of drones in their business activities. The company’s training branch, Drone Flight Academy, is recognized by the Dutch government as a flight school and develops and provides training, education and workshops aimed at safe and responsible flying with drones.
• Drone Light Labs, founded in 2017, produces among other things the world-famous performance art installation Franchise Freedom for Studio Drift. The artwork consists of autonomously flying swarm of hundreds of drones, which uses a specially developed algorithm based on the flight behavior of starlings. One of the essential parts of the artwork: ‘swarm intelligence’.
• Dutch Drone Academy was the first drone school in the Netherlands (2013) and currently is a market leader in drone training (RTF-recognized), active as a European drone operator (ROC +, ROC-L, Certificate Class 2 BE) and publisher of drone textbooks and digital learning environments for professionals, fellow drone schools and secondary vocational education.
• Elkay International (Europe) exports electronic components and systems from Europe to companies in the Indian telecommunications, defense, space and aviation industry.
• Mapture.ai is a start-up founded in 2018 that is developing an autonomously operating ‘drone in a box’ system. The system is aimed to be used in a wide range of applications such as monitoring industrial installations, securing business parks and deployment during emergency situations.
• Marshall Netherlands is part of the Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (Cambridge, UK) – one of the largest independent technology companies in Europe. The company specializes in, among other things, design, production and maintenance of defence shelter system, and the conversion, modification and maintenance of military and civil aircraft. Marshall has been supporting the Royal Netherlands Air Force for more than 20 years and at the end of 2018 the company won a contract for the supply and maintenance of 1,400 shelter systems for the Dutch armed forces.
Fast growing industry
In many sectors, drone and related technologies already ensure that work can be done faster, better, safer and more efficiently. Due to the further development and integration of robotization, artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning and the Internet of Things, the number of useful applications is growing rapidly.
Market analysts from Drone Industry Insights expect the global drone market to grow to $ 42.8 billion by 2025. This is almost double its current size in 2020 ($ 22.5 billion). The European market is also almost doubling; from $ 5.19 billion now to $ 9.86 billion by 2025.
Unmanned Valley is an initiative of Delft University of Technology and the municipality of Katwijk – made possible by the Dutch central and regional government as well as the EU’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) – and will develop into a breeding ground for high-tech activities.