Drone Evolution team (L-R): Clayton Earney – operations director, John Young – technical director, Toby Townrow – communications director
Supporting construction companies in Wales to evolve their ways of working with drone technology, Toby Townrow, co-founder and communications director of Drone Evolution talks to BQ about embedding innovation in his company.
What does your business do?
At Drone Evolution, we make people safer and organisations better. Using drone technology, we provide world-class aerial data to enhance and improve organisations' ability to deliver for their clients and customers.
We are particularly focused on tethered drones. These drones can stay in the air for many hours (the drone is powered via the tether by a small ground station unit) rather than the 20-30 minutes flight times afforded by their free-flying cousins. This widens their commercial capability. It also makes them more secure as there is little risk of flyaway.
We are developing our own range of tethered drones for use in security, construction, utilities and facilities management. Drones in development will increase flight time to days, weeks, potentially even months at a time. They will be able to triangulate signals to each other in a hive. They will be able to be activated remotely via a control centre or autonomously in certain conditions.
As well as the product development, we provide drone services such as aerial inspections, quantity surveying, thermal imaging and short-term security via a tethered drone. We also set organisations up to become self-sufficient with an in-house drone team. We advise and consult on the drones required, source and lease the drones, provide training for the team and advise on the correct insurances and apply for the required approval from the Civil Aviation Authority.
Any way to reduce working at height is important for the construction industry. With a background in facilities management, our team is uniquely placed to understand the challenges of modern construction and deliver unique solutions to the benefit of the industry, its employees and its clients and customers.
What innovative products, services, materials or processes do you have relevant to the construction sector?
Our tethered drone product range is a game-changer for construction services. A drone that can stay in the air for extended periods (rather than just for the 20 minutes or so afforded by free-flying drones) can deliver much more data and therefore unlock more benefits.
Key to the development of the product range itself is the development of the power supply, the ground station, the motors and adding other features such as weatherproofing (to enable the drone to fly in a much wider range of conditions) and wifi (to enable clients to have their own private wifi network in areas with poor reception).
Future development is to develop a range of autonomous tethered drones that can be deployed from a central control area given certain conditions and so could be used for emergency response and routine maintenance. A number of drones could talk to each other, and so triangulation is also possible. There are such a range of possibilities and use cases that the key for us to start with is going to be focusing on a few on which to build the foundation of the business - and this sector is key to our thinking.
What difference does innovating make to your business?
The name of the business is designed to demonstrate our commitment to innovation. We are looking to evolve the way that organisations use drones for the benefit of them and their clients. Our product development is based on clients asking the question "What if...?"
How do you manage innovation; how do you encourage staff to innovate in their jobs?
Our three-man team is entirely focused on bringing new innovation to the market. This entails a bit of education from us about tethered drones as not many people know what they are. One of our directors is entirely focused on R&D whilst the others are operations and sales and marketing.
In our short time trading, our product development has changed and we have developed our own tethered drone rather than buying one for service provision. This is a direct result of our decision to innovate and has allowed us to add in features not currently available in the tethered drone market.
We regularly meet to ask how we can do things differently and are open to challenge from our investors. We have also engaged with the Accelerator Growth Programme to ensure we can interface with experts in specific business fields.
How do you encourage innovation in your supply chain, or in those that you partner with?
As a very young company, wholly focused on innovation, we're working with larger companies that are looking to take advantage of drone technology and that are open to new ideas. We have begun a relationship with the Innovation Team in Welsh Government to that effect.
What is the most interesting/innovative contract or development you have been involved in?
We are currently in talks to develop drones for a major construction company but these discussions are at a very early stage and so we can't say too much. What we can say is that it would be extremely innovative and put us at the forefront of commercial drone technology in both the UK and the rest of the world.
What has been your biggest challenge with embedding a culture of innovation?
The biggest challenge for us is getting clients who can see the benefits of what we’re doing – in terms of increasing the health and safety of employees, saving time and saving money. When you have a new market, education is the key challenge.
What advice would you give to other businesses looking to increase their innovation?
Innovation is key to business success in the long term. Companies that stay static wither and die. Non-profit and public sector organisations also need to bear this in mind – in an environment where organisations are constantly challenged to do more with less, doing things as they’ve always been done is not an option.
Key to challenging thinking is collaboration and the sharing of practice, even in what might seem to be an unrelated discipline. Following on from this is the willingness to challenge thinking and short-termism.
What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?
We’re looking to continue to develop solutions to challenges that are ahead of their time and that will make people use drones in a different way. We’ll be bringing those products to market, both by ourselves and in conjunction with some partners as well as continuing to innovate. We will have protected our IP and licenced it for use in products around the globe.
Innovation 100 Construction Wales is a major initiative to identify some of Wales' most innovative companies across the construction and built environment sector, looking particularly at the supply chain to highlight the depth of the sector and its relevance to the future economic prosperity of the sector in Wales.
The campaign will showcase nominated companies through inspiring content via a digital campaign and a series of events and debates shining the spotlight on Wales' most purpose driven construction companies and their businesses.
For more info visit https://www.innovation100cw.co.uk/.
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