HEROTECH8 – Second Cohort Export Champion

 

Automated Drone Servicing Platforms

Location: Cranfield
Company website: www.herotech8.com
Sectors: Engineering, Science & Technology

HEROTECH8 creates wide-scale support infrastructure for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), to automate monitoring operations, recharging & the loading or delivery of payloads.

Their UAV station also allows drones to undergo important maintenance and diagnostics to assess flight-readiness prior to take off.

Coupled with a proprietary guidance, navigation and control (GNC) system, it allows users with no prior training to take full advantage of emerging drone technologies. Safety is improved by removing the need for any physical human interaction with the drone or its associated payloads. The platform may be deployed to operate continuously and automatically in a smart network of stations that also mitigate the effects of challenging flight conditions; all without the need for a human operator onsite.

HEROTECH8’s long term goal is to facilitate and drive the integration of drones into wide ranging applications – including crop monitoring and crop spraying, pipeline, renewables and offshore inspection, consumer and medical logistics.

With a product of such significance, HEROTECH8 is already being earmarked for huge success. Prizes during their early stages included pre-seed venture funding, and CEO Siobhan Gardiner winning the InnovateUK Women in Innovation prize (announced at the National Business Awards 2016). This was followed by a successful trade-mission to China, and two grants through the UK FCO Global Prosperity Fund. The company has also been invited to present at CleanEquity Monaco 2017, hosted by Prince Albert II of Monaco.

CommonwealthFirst looks forward to supporting HEROTECH8 in forming new partnerships and growing its international networks.

 

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Photo_SGardiner_HEROTECH8How did the idea for your business come about?
Over the last few years, many case studies have been published that demonstrate the value of drones to civil sectors. These include agriculture (my area) and humanitarian logistics – whether it was for spotting crop disease in its earliest stages, or delivering vital blood packs and vaccines to dangerous or remote areas.

However, time and time again, these case studies kept on coming up against the same barriers to wide-scale deployment, which prevented the setup of drone tech in areas that could most benefit. These obstacles included lack of immediate power, safety risks and the need to have a trained human operator (which is costly to sustain). It was here that we saw a huge opportunity, to both enhance drone-tech and make significant societal impact in the civil drone industry space.

Our solution was to create automated drone infrastructure that was easy to use and maintain, and able to perform for a variety of applications.

What difficulties have you encountered setting up your business?
At the moment, this is a project that my team and I work on in addition to our full time study/work. This means very late nights and weekends. We do this because we love it, and we truly believe in what we are doing. Even so, looking ahead on our route to the commercialisation of our technology – I need to be in a position to employ my team full-time to keep up our R&D momentum.

What are the biggest trade and export challenges you face?
Strict policy restrictions currently prevent the deployment of UAVs operating beyond line-of-sight, which is something that we can help with. Through trials and case study applications, we wish to present a means for best practice in the commercial drone sector, for providing a safe and reliable means of carrying out autonomous operations.

What are the most crucial things you have done to grow and develop your business? 
Following our founding in June, we were successful in winning pre-seed funding from the Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship in July, and later in the year I obtained the Women in Innovation prize. We also won a grant from ICUK and the Foreign Office Global Prosperity Fund to go on an Innovation Mission to China in November, and are going back to follow up with our connections next month. In March we have also been invited to present at CleanEquity in Monaco (a world-leading conference on emerging clean-tech).

How did you hear about the CWF programme and what made you apply?
We were recommended for the programme by another applicant, who we had met during a previous trade mission to china.

What are you hoping to get out of the CWF programme?
CommonwealthFirst will provide us with the platform to grow our business with potential collaborators across the Commonwealth, develop our routes to market in diverse international environments and cement my skill set as a business leader in exporting our proprietary technology abroad. In these early stages, it is important that we grow our international network and form partnerships. This is so that feasibility trials can be put in place and the needs of our end users in these different regions of the world can be addressed. Doing so will put us in a much stronger position prior to our full commercial launch in 2018.

What are the current limitations and safety issues in Drone technology that HEROTECH8 is addressing?
It all started with a problem. Over the last few years, many case studies have been published that demonstrate the value of drones to civil sectors. These include agriculture, infrastructure inspection and humanitarian logistics – whether it was for spotting crop disease in its earliest stages, pipeline monitoring or delivering vital blood packs and vaccines to dangerous or remote areas. However, time and time again, these case studies kept on coming up against the same barriers to wide-scale deployment, which prevented the setup of drone tech in areas that could most benefit. These obstacles included lack of immediate power, safety risks and the need to have a trained human operator (which is costly to sustain). It was here that we saw a huge opportunity, to both enhance drone-tech and make significant societal impact in the civil drone industry space.

Where would you like your business to be in 5 years time?
By breaking down the barriers to UAV deployment, we will unlock hidden growth in the drone market, with the aim of being the market leader in drone infrastructure. With policy and regulation constantly evolving in the space of unmanned and autonomous vehicles, it’s an exciting technology space to be in.

Is there anything exciting you would like to share?
InnovateUK Women in Innovation win – this was the first competition of its kind in the UK, with over 1000 expressions of interest from companies at all stages of development, and across many sectors in enabling and emerging technologies. Our win was announced at the National Business Awards 2016 in London.

This interview was conducted as part of the CommonwealthFirst Export Champion interview series. Apply now to become an Export Champion.