Rob Brouwer and his partner Linda Bulk in 2008 chanced upon a crude version of what would be today’s remotely piloted aerial system (RPAS) (read drone) in an out-of-the-way garage helicopter shop in Lismore, New South Wales in Australia.
The simple devise instantly grabbed their attention. It was not more than two aluminium square bars about 40 cm in length with four motors on each end and a small PCB in the middle to control the four motors. Under it, a small pocket digital camera was attached with cable ties and tape.
The chance encounter fuelled the couple’s fascination – being avid photographers – leading ultimately to them turning a hobby into a commercial business, simply because there was a demand for the stable frames they designed for their own photography use.
Aeronavics, today, has high ambitions to place a stake on the industry, believed to be valued at US$11 billion. The company has shifted its business model to focus on tapping the commercial application of RPAS. It is also integrating best technologies available as it seeks to build the Ducati or AUDI of drones.
To help fuel its ambitious growth plans, Aeronavics is seeking to raise between $750,000 and $1.5 million, using crowdfunding platform Snowball Effect. This values the company at $8.5 million pre-offer.
The maximum amount on offer represents 15% of the company. The company plans to use money from the sale of its shares (minimum $1,000 investment at $1 per share) to fast track development, including for research, investments in key personnel, and tooling and production line equipment.
The offer which has just gone live already has 34 investments totalling $164,500 (as of February 12). Read offer document here.
Snowball Effect’s head of company pipeline and services, Shaun Edlin, says kiwi investors are definitely paying attention to offers launched through crowdfunding, with each of the offers on Snowball Effect attracting multiple investments of over $50,000.
Idealog asks Brouwer to help answer some questions about his passion and vision for Aeronavics.
Q: How did you get into the business of making flying objects?
A: I had always been fascinated by flight, and from an early age was playing with, and building, model airplanes - and later radio controlled planes and helicopters.
I became a commercial pilot and spent some years in that industry; I moved into computers whilst still in my early twenties as that to me was where the future was.
Many years later my partner Linda and I stumbled across a very crude version of this technology in 2008 in an out of the way garage remote control helicopter shop in Lismore, New South Wales, in Australia. This very simple device instantly grabbed our attention, which was not more than two aluminium square bars about 40 cm in length with four motors on each end and a small printed circuit board in the middle to control the four motors. Under it, a small pocket digital camera was attached with cable ties and tape – but we got the idea of it.
We ourselves were into photography at the time and we saw an immediate advantage…if it would work…which it did not…but it had potential and so we followed the forums and became hooked on the potential.
One of the main issues, apart from control and stability in the early electronics, was vibration and the holy grail then was to get crystal clear high definition footage on a GoPro at full resolution; so Linda and I embarked on mission to design an airframe (which was an integral part of the system …and still is) that would absorb vibration and act as a stable and robust structure to house the flight control electronics, camera equipment and motors etc. After some months we had our eureka moment and achieved that holy grail of clear HD video and still vibration free images.
After many requests for us to build the airframes for others (which at that time were each hand made from carbon fibre cloth and resin and took weeks to complete) we finally decided that if we did not do this on a commercial scale…someone else will! So we embarked on the journey of machine-making our product range and launched “Droidworx”(rebranded Aeronavics) in 2010.
Q: In the world of business who is your hero? If there was a company you would aspire to, who would it be?
A: That’s a really good question with no short answer; naturally we look up to companies like Apple, Google, and others too; but it’s what companies do with their resources and combined intellect that inspires us. We consider ourselves to be conscious people who have the best interests of humanity and the planet at heart. What inspires us about any company is how they interact with the needs of people to help them to live healthy, joyful and fulfilling lives whilst maintaining harmony and respect for the planet.
It does not take much intelligence to see that our impact on this planet, our home, is significant and requires attention and action from each and every person, and we are doing our bit to help reduce waste, increase safety, improve productivity and generally add to a system in harmony. This technology has far reaching potential to transform many forms of human activity into more caring and sustainable practices.
We are also inspired by beauty and functionality, we look up to companies like AUDI and Ducati as their focus is not just on how their products enhance the human experience on a functional level, but also how their products make us feel.
We all can see beauty in the world and beauty has a positive affect on all of us…and so as a manufacturer… why not create beauty in products as well, why not add to the human experience in that way too. We like to see ourselves as the “Ducati” of the aerial robot industry. That’s our goal -- high performance, beautiful looking, functional and safe machines that enhance the human experience - whilst harmonising our lives with the earths ecology.
A drone capturing Niagara Falls
Q: For investors pitching money into your company, what are they buying into?
A: Our company has great products and we have big visions for this technology. The reason why we chose equity crowdfunding was that it gives many others a chance to help participate in a major shift in technology. It's also an efficient way to raise capital, and a good opportunity to raise the profile of our brand. Drones, or aerial robotics will play a huge role in the future and we’ve only seen a tiny fraction of what is to be…in the beginning of its life cycle.
Robotics and unmanned aerial vehicles are a part of our collective future, and anyone who buys into Aeronavics is investing in a revolution of change…and for the better.
As for financial return on investment – the potential yields are just as significant. We are really well positioned with our products and our brand awareness to become one of the top players worldwide in this emerging market. The timing is right – we’re not a start-up company that is yet to get through the first years of establishing itself and finding their niche. We are well established and only require the resources to develop and realise the opportunities we have already created.
Q: Tell us about the business of Drones – there seems to be such as intense focus on its possibilities – is there too much hype around the potential, not enough delivery?
A: Drones are a new tool for humanity, not unlike robotic arms are for the industrial manufacturing sector – except that these robots fly and flight has always been a fascination for people since the first wings took to the air a hundred plus years ago.
I think that the combination of robotics and flight has a special fascination – and that fascination has certainly taken the hobby market by storm with some companies shipping thousands of units per month.
Aeronavics does not make war craft. We design and manufacture civilian, domestic industrial drones that are fast becoming every day tools for commercial operations, public services, farmers, etc, in a range of applications that is growing fast and daily.
I think the hype is well justified; we have stumbled upon an new technology that will have very positive input into daily life; like the personal computer of the 70’s and 80’s…it’s another revolution, and in an ever increasing tech savvy- and tech-dependant world, we are all embracing it.
It is a disruptive technology and requires different approaches and integration in the field. This results in a longer period of exploring and trialling before large scale roll-out. But here too the hard work is done… the perception around the use of the technology has shifted from “don’t think so” to “inevitable” in just two years – so the question now is no longer “if”, but “when”.
Q: What is your vision for the next 10 years..?
A: The potential is unlimited, but our company will need support from investors to grow with that potential; we have some amazing new designs about to be launched onto the market, which we believe are an advancement on what’s currently available.
During the next ten years, we see film crews, TV and news crews all begin to adopt the technology and have one or two craft in their kit of equipment; fire departments will begin to use the technology, with trained operators and drones also in every crew. Farmers will embrace the technology and over the next ten years drones will become just as much a part of the farm machinery line-up as a tractor or quad bike.
Broadcasting and TV coverage of sporting events, car racing, World Rally Championsip events etc, will all be augmented by drones.
We’ll see the steady integration of unmanned with manned vehicles, both in the air and on the ground; this integration is inevitable and imminent and aviation authorities around the globe are racing to formulate workable regulation as we head towards our robotic future at breakneck speed.
We have all heard about Amazon and Alibaba’s plan to deliver goods by drone, and whilst this seems fanciful right now, at some point drones will participate in everyday operations in an efficient and safe way.
It is also very possible that some form of personal air vehicle using elements of this technology will begin to emerge over the next 10 years and who knows where that could go!
I think the best quote I have heard so far about the potential of drones or aerial robotics was: “their use is only limited by our imagination”, and we believe this too!