In March 2019, Business Geomatics published an interview with Microdrones President, Vivien Heriard-Dubreuil, about strategies and long-term goals. Click here to view the article online.Click here to download the German PDF of the German article. For English speakers, please see the English translation below.
Globally positioned, regionally anchored
Microdrones is a pioneer in the development of quadcopters. What strategy are you pursuing today?
We provide single-source solutions for drone-based mapping that help end users make better business decisions. So, Microdrones offers complete solutions consisting of drones perfectly adapted for professional applications, integrated sensors, software and workflow, as well as the related areas of maintenance, training and support. Our focus is on optimizing every single step in the entire workflow for UAV-based surveying and using that to develop the best possible overall application. This starts with the preparation and planning of the flight mission and extends to the intelligent, application-oriented processing of the data. We summarize it like this: Plan, Fly, Process, Visualize.
Do you consider this a unique selling point?
There is no company worldwide that can provide such close integration of development at all levels. We have an excellent market position, because we have focused on a turnkey solution strategy. Our solutions are platforms for extracting and processing data, where each cog intermeshes tightly with the other. So users have an extremely reliable workflow for obtaining the highest quality survey data. In recent years, solutions based on LiDAR technology have been developed. The integration of LiDAR in drones still has enormous potential for the future.
Most recently, you acquired several companies. What is behind this development?
Our goal is to systematically expand our lead in technological development. Every component of the entire workflow is critical for optimizing applications and guaranteeing the best possible data for the end user. We want to achieve organic growth, for which we need the best knowledge and qualified employees in house. Because we want to control products and address markets globally, a global network of locations is equally important.
What role does the acquisition of Schübeler Technologies, which was made late last year, play?
Schübeler Technologies and Microdrones have a long history, on both a business and personal level. Company owner Daniel Schübeler was involved in the founding of Microdrones. The company was previously also a key partner for the development of the flight platform in every phase of Microdrones, especially in the area of rotors, chassis and overall aerodynamics. It is important for us to have this back in-house, so we can manage development much better, leverage synergies with other departments, and build prototypes faster.
In which areas of the flight platforms can improvements be made?
Schübeler has excellent expertise in high-end model flying. This includes top-level know-how in the field of aerodynamics and wind tunnel technology. Schübeler also develops fans, compressors and pumps that work reliably even under extreme conditions and are therefore important for our drone solutions.
Already today, we at Microdrones represent the pinnacle of the technical possibilities in terms of flight duration, reliability and flight characteristicsbut we have a culture and process of constant improvement.. We are also researching the development of new flight platforms that are even more purpose built for mapping applications. We are an innovative company and do not allow ourselves to get comfortable. For example, Schübeler has experience with fixed-wing VTOL drones that can achieve long flight times and long ranges. Again, this is an interesting future option for expanding our UAV platforms.
With Navmatica, you have also acquired a company in Dubai. What is the background behind that?
Knowledge of the practices in our business is enormously important. You have to understand the application to draw the right conclusions for the development of solutions. This know-how is regional, so we want to be close to our customers and applications in the main regions of the world. There we can gain the experience we use in our development in order to sustainably improve the solutions.
With Navmatica, we are gaining a foothold in the Middle East, which offers access to a very interesting market. The company has been offering services and custom software development since 2012, with a focus on geodesy, aerial mapping and indoor mapping, which fits in perfectly with our strategy. On the one hand, we can utilize the deep know-how in geoinformatics. Some Navmatica employees are already moving to other locations in order to assure a global transfer of knowledge. On the other hand, we will also expand the branch as a service center for the Middle East and maintain a strong regional presence
The move into the Asian market is going in the same direction with the acquisition of AIRCAM?
Yes, but there are other facets to this. In Asia, drone-based mapping applications will have a revolutionary and transformative impact on our customers and our business. We have more than 10 years of business experience in the Asian market and we are excited and grateful to welcome the Aircam team as a member of the Microdrones family. We have thoroughly analyzed Aircam and we are passionate about the quality of its products, service and development expertise. Furthermore, through the acquisition we are gaining valuable contacts in the Asian market. In addition, we want to build additional production capacity. We’re gaining an experienced team with access to an enthusiastic customer base across Asia.
Is the new location in southern China near Guangzhou also intended to serve as a service center?
Correct, for the entire area of East Asia, the Pacific and Australia. Especially in the latter two, we expanded our activities in 2018 and have established a branch in Australia. The local market is a pioneer in the commercial drone industry, where the regulatory framework is very favorable. Australia is very well developed when it comes to mapping in particular. For more than 10 years, our platforms have been in use in the mining sector of the construction industry or in the area of inspection.
What are the specifics of the East Asian market?
Although the drone market is strong here, it is dominated by domestic manufacturers who are also focused on the commercial sector. From the point of view of the application areas as well, there are differences. Public authorities in particular have been using drones for a long time and are a global pioneer in inspection, surveillance, mapping or internal security. On the other hand, many parts of the economy have not progressed so far in the use of UAV mapping solutions. Due to the strong public administration of the communist regime and its history, the free economy is under much greater control than, for example, in Europe. In China, for example, there is no product comparable to Google Maps, and end-users have no access to the potential of online maps and mapping applications. But that is undergoing rapid change. As in all technology markets, China is also developing here. Through Aircam we will expand this growth segment in East Asia and gradually establish the mapping applications in very diverse industries. We also benefit from the fact that flights beyond visual line of sight have long been established in China. There, we can gather valuable experience that we can bring to Europe and the US when the barriers to BVLOS come down.
How do you see the market for drone-based surveying developing globally?
Development of the market is just beginning. There is tremendous potential in merging autonomous flight platforms and surveying sensors. Today, our customers are still early adopters, but they are all thoroughly impressed by the benefits that can be achieved. These experiences show us daily that we have taken the right path.
In the future, will we be able to experience surveying at the touch of a button?
In part, we already have this today. But this development still needs to be classified. As soon as we have simple, standardized processes and the accuracy requirements are not too high, a high degree of automation is already possible today. This development will continue dynamically, but there will always be a high percentage of challenging applications. Collecting data that provides the highest accuracy but is still within the range of what is financially viable always requires precise expertise in the planning, preparation, and custom configuration of all the flight parameters of a mission. This demands true experts, and of course the corresponding technical solutions. (sg)