Drones are revolutionising the way we see the world, transforming the way we perform everyday tasks and creating countless benefits for industry.
Their versatility is paving the way for entrepreneurs and innovators to develop savvy applications of the technology, helping industry sectors increase productivity, reduce costs and improve health and safety practices.
When it comes to the agricultural sector, replacing the use of expensive planes and helicopters with drones could be a game-changer – not only are drones much safer than manned aircrafts, they are also cheaper to operate, bringing the potential for huge cost savings to graziers and agricultural sector.
Ignite Ideas Fund Round 7 recipients, Sunbirds Aero Pty Ltd are taking their innovative drone technology to one of Queensland’s biggest sectors with their world-first, solar-powered drone able to monitor the most remote and inaccessible locations of a property.
The new technology can stay in the air for around eight hours, flying up to 400km, to help monitor livestock, autonomously check waterpoints and fences, assess pasture conditions and spot invasive weeds.
We caught up with Sunbirds Aero Founder, Laurent Riviere to discuss how their Ignite Ideas Fund grant will help them showcase their innovation to local landholders in remote areas, helping them to create up to 20 new jobs within five to six years.
Tell me a little bit about what your business does…
What inspired you to start your business?
After working for more than five years with observation and telecommunication satellites in the aerospace industry, I realised the potential of aerial imaging and how much value it can bring to hundreds of applications.
I also noticed that satellites were not able to address some specific issues as they were limited in their detection capabilities, because of their low resolution.
This knowledge helped me understand how the professional drone sector could disrupt the way we observe earth and more specifically, large territories.
Associated with AI, drones can provide critical insights to governments, industry, and international organisations. It can ease the work of people on the ground while guaranteeing their safety.
From the deployment of autonomous drones to data analysis, Sunbirds Aero now helps land-owners, farmers and graziers to make better decisions with simple, fast and efficient aerial solutions.
What milestones have been reached?
The findings from our Proof of Concept in 2018 proved that our solar drone is fully adapted to the specific weather conditions of the Queensland desert (windy, dusty, hot). Following these findings, we successfully started the commercialisation of our drone.
The drone is currently being used on 14 properties of a major Australian cattle company, and has been purchased by companies in France and Africa.
On 14 September 2020, our drone also made an historic flight by crossing the English Channel twice, making a round-trip from France to England, making it the first lightweight solar-powered drone to travel 100km over a 2h20 flight, from one country to another over the sea with batteries 100% charged on arrival.
What achievements are you most proud of to date?
Sunbirds Aero is particularly proud to deliver the first commercial solar-powered drone in the world. Our technology has to date had more than 1,000 flights, and has mapped more than 35,000 hectares, ensuring data can be collected at a low cost over thousands of hectares.
We recently set an endurance world record which was ratified by the FAI,proving the capabilities of our solar drone.
We are also proud to be able to provide value to the livestock industry by deploying our solutions on cattle stations in Australia.
What are your business goals over the next 12-24 months?
We aim to become a leader in aerial inspection for environment and natural resources management by offering simple and efficient drone solutions to automatically collect and analyse data.
To achieve this, our two main business goals over the next two yearsare to reach most of our market target in Queensland in 2021, and the rest of Australia in 2022, as well as grow our structure in Brisbane and in the Queensland Outback.
How will you use your Ignite Ideas funding?
The funding from Ignite Ideas will enable us to meet farmers located in the most remote areas of Queensland and assist them in implementing this technology on their property. It will help us in developing a simple process for graziers to obtain their drone license while strengthening Australia’s world position in the livestock industry, thanks to numerous skilled job positions being created on Outback Queensland cattle stations.
How will this funding assist your business to grow and/or create jobs?
Our project aims to define a global and scalable strategy to offer autonomous and cost-effective drone solutions for remote inspections in the outback.
As our sales grow, Sunbirds Aero will be in the position to create more jobs in the commercial, drone operations, customer-relations and technical fields.
With Queensland as our biggest market, all the jobs will be created in our offices in Brisbane and in the state’s outback cities.
Why would you recommend applying for Advance Queensland programs such as the Ignite Ideas Fund?
The Ignite Ideas Fund is an amazing opportunity for young businesses with an innovative product or service solution who need extra help to gain visibility, commercialise their products and implement projects that would have been out of reach. The application process is easy and provides the chance for entrepreneurs to pitch their innovation and develop real and tangible business growth solutions.
What other support have you received from Advance Queensland or the Queensland Government?
Before the Ignite Ideas Fund, we received support from the Advance Queensland Hot Desk program. This helped us in the very first stages of our journey including helping us find a working space to pitch our solution to investors.
Why is it important to support Queensland businesses, innovators and entrepreneurs?
I think it is important to promote and support the talents inside the community, to show the younger generation that new ideas are encouraged, and that they should keep challenging the existing solutions and create new ones. Disruptive solutions and differentiating initiatives are core in propelling Queensland’s regional economy. Also, during these unprecedent times, it is important to support Queensland businesses to keep people employed and help create new jobs in urban or rural areas.
What’s your advice for other entrepreneurs and businesses starting out on their innovation journey?
Start with your potential customer problems! Before you commence any product development, you need to go into the field and create real relationships with your customers. This will help you understand how they work, how they think, what their pains are and how you can reduce them. From the time that you are perfectly aware of all those aspects, you’ll have the keys to create a successful solution. Don’t be afraid to test, don’t be afraid to fail – that’s part of the process.