This week, Mike Dziok, Marketing Director for Microdrones was interviewed by Sean Heath of the MarketScale Software and Electronics podcast.
They discussed how the introduction of drone technology is not a replacement for actual surveyors, and how Microdrones has established a strong partnership for distribution.
Click just below to access the podcast. For those of you who prefer to read the content, a Q&A transcript follows beneath the podcast link.
Sean Heath Interview with Mike Dziok
Sean: You’re listening to Marketscale Software & Technology. I’m you’re host Sean Heath and today I have an opportunity to have a conversation with Mike Dziok, the Marketing Director for Microdrones. Mike, how are you today?
Mike: I’m great! Thanks for having me Sean.
Sean: I have to tell you, I did not think today was going to be the day I got to talk about remote control drones all day. This is going to be awesome!
Mike: I didn’t think I’d get to work with drones! It’s a fun career and job.
Sean: You get to basically work with toys that do amazing things that nobody thought of having them do. Let’s do a little history lesson. Tell me how exactly did you wind up at what maybe one of the coolest companies I’ve ever seen?
Mike: I came from a background in marketing. I spent most of my career working in the advertising, promotions, communications, distribution and development side of marketing for a large HVAC company. I was notified that there was a company establishing a new business in the United States with drones and it was about an hour away from where I lived in Upstate New York. These were the things of science fiction in my childhood, now being used for professional purposes; for surveying, mapping inspection and gas detection. It was like a dream come true.
Sean: Let’s talk about the actual reimagining, basically, is what the way I would describe it, with drones. You have actually taken a toy, let’s be honest, and you have repurposed it to be one of the most important advancements in the industry, since a level was invented. Tell me a little bit about some of the things that you guys do with Microdrones?
Mike: The work that’s being done with drones in terms of photogrammetry, geospatial tasks, and surveying has been done for the past thirty years. It just wasn’t done with drones but rather manned aircraft, and on the ground, with traditional surveying methods. Drones fill the space where ground work can be done more efficiently with an unmanned aerial vehicle.
As you might imagine, a manned aircraft that’s mapping a large section of land costs a lot of money to fly, insure, and fuel. An unmanned aerial vehicle is much more cost efficient. That being said, we are not in competition with traditional aircraft that are doing mapping and photogrammetry. We’re really complementary. If a piece of land is smaller, it makes sense to use an unmanned aerial vehicle rather than sending up a manned aircraft.
Also, I’d like to note, when you mention toy, we cringe at that. We are not in the toy segment. We have commercial grade aircraft that stand up to wind, rain, and weather. From the very beginning these systems are professional grade and they withstand the rigors and abuse of daily field use.
Sean: Sounds like I’m probably not going to get a personal invitation to come and fly one of these?
Mike: They don’t even let me fly them. I try and they’re like, “No Mike. Don’t even bother.” That’s not to say that it’s difficult. They’ve made it easy via an app.
Sean: You’ve expanded the base of customers that can now utilize this technology. Because, I don’t have to pay the cost of renting out a full size aircraft, ground crew, and pilots. You’ve given me the ability to become really granular in the way that I go about getting information that’s needed for my project.
Mike: Yes. It’s much more efficient. Sometimes we hear, “Wow. You’re taking away jobs from surveyors and the traditional industry.” That’s not the case at all. We actually still need traditional surveyors involved in projects where drones are being flown. We still need professionals from the geospatial and aviation world involved in these projects. It’s just that more work can be done more efficiently and to a greater degree of accuracy and more safely. For example, picture an open pit mine. With traditional methods, a guy might have to walk into that open pit mine and set up his markers. Now, a drone can fly overhead and work can continue with the machinery that’s below because it’s much safer.
Sean: It’s not just a regular, run-of-the-mill person walking off the street that has the skills necessary to do this. I’m really interested in the complete solution that you’ve come up with. There’s a completely different set of professional qualifications you have to have. How did you get those at Microdrones?
Mike: We have three main product offerings. We have our mdMapper lineup which is closest to aerial photogrammetry. We have our mdTechtor series- the first one is called mdTector1000CH4. Then our newest release is mdLiDAR1000. These are fully integrated packages. We sell drones, but we’re really selling a whole package: the drone, the sensors, the software and the workflow. We’re selling the training and the support that goes into making this a fully integrated package for the professional user out in the field.
We break that down in all our materials as: plan, fly, process and visualize.So you’re planning is done via our tablet software called mdcockpit tablet. Then you fly the mission, collect the information, land, and download the data via Bluetooth. Once processed, you have a visual. That visual is different depending on what the application is.
For our mdMapper, the output is typically an orthophoto, a collection of hundreds of photos, taken with a very high resolution sensor, to create one giant high resolution image.
For our mdTector, our methane gas detection system, the output is essentially a map showing your methane hotspots. That would show you where your problems are along a pipeline or gas infrastructure.
Last, but not least, is our new LIDAR lineup of products, where the output is a pointcloud. This enables someone who is developing a piece of land to figure out where they need to level or raise it. If it’s irrigation, they can detect where they may have water problems and where they need to address that. There’s an endless number of applications and we’re just starting to scratch the surface.
Sean: Let me ask you the obvious question for a marketing director. You’ve come up with this fantastic solution- how do you distribute this? How do you get the word out? What’s process like?
Mike: We’ve partnered with the Trimble network of geospatial distributors who are connected to hundreds of geospatial professionals, surveying and construction companies that need geospatial products. We’re just one product in that whole line-up, but by going into a business partnership with Trimble, we’ve gotten access to all of those end users.
Trimble distributors have a built in customer base who like the service they get from Trimble. They know that Trimble is bringing on good products that are going to help them be professional in the field. We went through a lengthy process of being vetted to become the preferred provider of vertical takeoff and landing drones within the Trimble network and that has been very successful for us. We have thirty eight distributors worldwide and counting. It’s grown quickly and that’s really how we go to market and how we approach geospatial professionals.
Sean: You mentioned earlier that these drone based solutions are absolutely not intended to replace surveyors. They’re an addition to the tools that surveyors already use and that the mdLiDAR1000, the mdMapper1000DG; you actually have a Trimble-powered component. So it’s seems like a natural partnership. Where do you see that partnership helping the industry move to the future? Do you see any things on the horizon that really have made you sit up and pay attention and think this is going to be really good?
Mike: Great point. I’m glad that you bring that up, because some of our products have Applanix components inside - Applanix is a Trimble company and their APX-15 is actually a critical component within our mdMapper1000DG and our mdLiDAR1000 systems. Direct georeferencing is very important, because it allows much more efficient mapping of an area with a high degree of accuracy. You don’t have to set as many ground control points or in some cases you don’t have to set any ground control points at all.
Our mdmapper1000DG is our most popular product and our mdLiDAR1000 is getting a lot of attention and growing very quickly. We’re developing a number of new LiDAR systems as well. That’s really where our company and our owners see the industry going. There’s going to be a lot more interest in LiDAR because of the speed in which you can generate 3D point cloud models, making it easier to make decisions about land development, construction, and surveying.
Sean: I have to say, after having a chance to talk to you, I now understand why you call the product lineup mdSolutions. I ignorantly, initially said, “Oh. You guys do drones!” But that's just a small fraction. You actually are a solutions company.
Mike: The name of our company is Microdrones and for obvious reasons people talk about drones, drones, drones. However, the real point is we are anything but just a drone company. Instead, we’re solving very niche problems for established professionals with customer bases that need work to be done, every day.
Where we see Microdrones long term, is that before a bulldozer starts working on the dirt, our systems have flown to help collect data that is then used to make decisions about where that dirt should be moved. That’s really where we see our company and how we’ve aligned ourselves with the absolute best in the industry.
Sean: I’m going to give you a chance to do something they won’t let you do at work. You get to pick one site or building, anywhere in the world and you get a whole day to fly a drone around with a camera. Which site or building or location are you picking for your day?
Mike: Do I get an unlimited budget to build with?
Mike: Ok. I think I will build my own Amusement Park.
Sean: That’d be nice. Like a Six Flags, Walt Disney type of thing?
Mike: Yeah. I’d call it Microdrones World or something. I think it would be a mountainside with a ski area. I’d build my own ski area. That would be pretty cool.
Sean: Any chance I can get a complementary season pass, once you finish constructing this?
Mike: For sure.
Sean: Great. Today I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Mike Dziok the marketing Director for Microdrones. You can be reached at Microdrones.com. Thanks so much Mike.