At Sky-Futures we have spent the last 6 years working in the commercial drone market. We (the founders) used drone data in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006/7 and incorporated our company in June 2009. We started by assessing the different markets, sizing them and then trying to forecast how they would look in 5 and 10 years’ time. We also set out to truly and deeply immerse ourselves in the industries we were going to serve to ensure that we were solving real business problems.
Markets with lower barriers to entry would be dominated by domain experts who could execute fast with lower margins, and then move to a product offering. The value of the output of the Agriculture market, though often touted as very large, cannot be dramatically altered by the use of drones. Optimized, yes, but nothing that would provide the transformational change that drone data is capable of. The Mining market was also positioned as an early adopter but the requirements would be simple. A low cost drone platform and differentiation via software and analytics that was slick and easy to use or through raw speed of processing.
Utilities, telecommunications and electricity pylons, we concluded, were going to be a volume opportunity. We understood that these industries would enter drone inspections through the up-skilling of existing field engineers to utilize drones as part of their tool kit in the truck, particularly as flying would have to be more manual initially. Critically, we assessed that the real value in these industries would be in the sorting, organizing and analysis of data collected.
We chose the drone inspection service market in the Oil & Gas (O&G) industry, with its highly inaccessible, highly hazardous and critical infrastructure and its focus on safety and regulation. This meant that we would likely have a harder entry point into the market, but could drive significant savings immediately. We did this by reducing data acquisition costs by 85% and cutting the time spent doing the jobs on offshore platforms by 75%. The increase in safety, reduction of time and cost resonated with the industry, particularly in a difficult economic climate. The safety focus within the industry also allowed us to demonstrate our mettle in this regard and to earn the trust that defines our relationship with clients to this day. To date we have operated in 23 countries and for 36 of the biggest O&G companies in the world, all the way from Angola to Vietnam.
Creation of our future value
Our aim was to deliver unsurpassed managed services whilst learning and understanding the very specific needs of the industrial inspections market.
We gathered data, and needs from our clients and own inspection teams on real industry pain points. We used our managed service to validate the requirements for drones in industrial inspection. This very deliberate market entry also put us in a position to understand what issues will exist when drones become the normalized inspection tool of choice. Having identified the key business drivers, we started to build software to make drone infrastructure inspections more seamless. We built the first iterations of our secure cloud-based Expanse software for ourselves, with Sky-Futures as the only inspection company and our O&G clients as the consumers of the data. This provided over 12 months of feedback and ideas that have streamlined and shaped the product, often providing surprising results on the importance, or not, of certain features and workflow. Today building inspection reports in our Expanse software takes a third of the time of conventional reports and Expanse ‘reports’ are much more powerful. From what we have learned and built into leading products and services, tools are now available for the entire vertical infrastructure inspection market. The integrity, inspection and business drivers for a bridge, wind turbine, cell tower and an oil and gas refinery share key characteristics that are addressed by our Expanse software.
The next step was to make the Expanse software commercially available to enable the entire vertical infrastructure market to benefit from our knowledge and experience. Therefore, today we are now providing an array of products and services to our clients who are at various progressive stages of adopting and leveraging the power of drones:
- Expanse software subscriptions for inspection companies to capture and handle drone-based inspection data for their clients
- Inspector training and Expanse software for asset operators with field engineers who want to leverage Sky-Futures software and our partners’ aviation expertise
- Remote Pilot and Inspector training including Expanse software for asset operators who want to deploy a full, proven, accredited in-house drone capability today
- A full managed service solution delivered by Sky-Futures and partners’ pilots and inspection engineers reported through Expanse
So if you are a global engineering firm you can get your inspectors trained and offer drone services to clients within a week of partnering with Sky-Futures. Or if you are a telecommunications company we can train your field engineers to fly drones to inspect your cell towers and management can assess the deepest data in two clicks via Expanse. With dedicated training centers in Gloucester, UK and Houston, Texas, USA and partners, such as Bristow who provide remote pilots, we can support these requirements at scale today.
We’ve built the future of drone based industrial inspection. How are you going to use it?
–James Harrison, CEO and Co-Founder of Sky-Futures