The digital revolution is raging. It began in industries such as financial and retail where ecommerce and mobile became an increasingly important way to deliver services and engaged with the customers in those segments. But players focused on the physical world, such as mining and property management, where the core business inherently requires moving earth or surveying property conditions have historically been left behind. As laggards, these industries have resisted change in large part because they’ve had historically people-heavy roles and because, frankly, it was not clear how to do things like digitizing dirt.
Whether it is easy or not, these physically-focused industries no longer can afford to avoid going digital; they need to find new ways to take advantage of modern technology. In the construction and mining industries low margins, limited resources, and increased competition are driving companies out of business. Industries like insurance and property management are seeing similar challenges with increased competition and customer turnover. And to add to it, we’re still putting people in harm’s way. In the race against time following a hurricane, inspectors are risking their lives, climbing on roofs. Surveying on active job sites with large equipment is just as dangerous.
The solution? The drone. The leaders in the drone industry saw this opportunity to provide an easy and economical way to digitize the physical world. More detailed and “real-time” than satellite imagery and more cost effective than manned aircraft flights, drones are an effective (and cool) way to capture images that ultimately unleash the power of mobile, cloud, machine learning/artificial intelligence, and more. With a big opportunity in sight, drones and sensor manufacturers have evolved rapidly over the last few years to move from consumer toys to enterprise-grade equipment. Sensors are getting smaller, drones are easier to fly, both are lower in cost, and drones have better battery life than ever before. Gone are the days when users had to duct tape a cell phone to a drone just to try to capture better imagery. And just as iPads went from personal devices to integrated into company workflows, so too have drones.
But capturing drone data is only the first step of getting the benefits of digitizing the physical world. Businesses want and need to make sense of the data, compare it, access it over time and from different locations. What matters is how effectively the data can be ingested into the cloud in a secure and scalable way. What matters is how that data is then turned into meaningful models and visualizations that users, regardless of their location, can view, interact with, annotate and collaborate on as they do their jobs. This is exactly what we do at Airware leveraging the power of cloud and machine learning/artificial intelligence to do everything from measuring stockpiles more safely, efficiently and effectively to automatically detecting roof top damage. To be the leader in delivering business insights, however, required Airware to step away from the hardware side of the business. Hardware is evolving very quickly and rather than compete, it became clear to us that the best value we can offer to our customers is to lead on the analytics side and give our customers access to the best-of-breed drone technology and sensors to support their business which is why we are now drone agnostic.
As the leader in our own industry, we partner with the biggest and most innovative players in the industries we serve such as Caterpillar, State Farm, top 10 insurers/property management companies and the largest mining, quarry, and construction companies around the world. The benefit of our global enterprise focus is the ability for us to shape the digital transformation with our customers in their respective industries. One requirement of success is that we have global coverage and support. We achieve this through our own operations in North America and Europe and our strong partnership across Caterpillar’s global network of dealers who can offer Airware solutions and support in over 30 territories. The other big requirement of global enterprises is security and as a former CIO of a public company I recognize the importance of this and as a result we have built security into our company culture, our services, and our solutions with a commitment to continue to keep security a key focus area for the company.
All of this is a tall order for a young company. In order to maintain a clear leadership role in analytics with a global presence we have been innovating both organically and inorganically. In 2016, we acquired a France-based drone analytics company focused on the mining, quarry, and construction industries. A startup acquiring a startup was a tough bet and yet a great one in our case. With the acquisition we were able to expand our global presence and support for our customer base, tap into new and deeply-skilled talent pools, and advance into a new industry space.
Six months ago I stepped into the role of CEO and I’m often asked, where does Airware go from here. The short answer: We will continue pioneering digital possibilities and empowering the world to thrive.
We’ve spent the last 6 years helping advance the hardware and data capture in the enterprise space and building out the analytics that can be done with drone data. This has brought great value to our customers as they can do many things they do today better, faster, and more safely. Now, comes the fun part.
Now is when we can go from doing what we do today better to bringing new insights and opportunities to our customers. We will do this in a few ways. First we are leveraging technologies such as thermal sensors attached to the drones to allow property management companies to do thermal imaging of large buildings to identify potential water intrusion or other signs of damage. Prior to drones, this type of thermal analysis was not possible. Going forward we will start to expand into data collection devices and sensors such as smell-based sniffers, sonar and more. We are also able to expand into other types of data collection tools such as rolling robots that can help collect data from underground mines and more.
Other ways we will partner with our customers to drive innovation is through the integration of different data streams together. For example, imagine the insights you can start to achieve when you integrate the sensors on today’s machines with geospatially where they are at any given point in time. All of a sudden you can map together not only what is happening but where and when, which empowers you to take action and improve business results. We will also do more work in the predictive analytics space – leveraging tools and techniques such as adaptive terrain modeling techniques to estimate stockpile boundaries and floors for best-in-class volume estimation. We are integrating state-of-the-art GIS simulation libraries for water drainage and pooling analysis. We are using deep learning models to identify rooftop wind and hail damage trained on thousands of drone-collected images. All of these things become possible now that we can digitize the physical world.
In this digital revolution, Airware is empowering people to digitize the physical world and transform their business and their communities with new insights and predictive analytics enabled by drones and other sensors. This will allow people to have safer working environments, be more efficient with the world’s scarce resources, and innovate in new ways we have yet to uncover. A pioneer since birth, Airware is excited to be the leader in driving the digital possibilities that are enabling the world to thrive.