Dotterel, a drone acoustic firm, reflects the evolving nature of the NZ-US trade relationship – its about innovation, technology, creativity and ideas

Jordan Small
Executive Director

Late last year I had the chance to sit down for a chat with Shaun Edlin – listen below. Shaun is CEO and a co-founder of Dotterel Technologies an exciting New Zealand start-up based in Auckland focused on solving the noise problem of drones.

The co-founders of Dotterel were involved with other successful New Zealand start-ups such as Lanzatech and Rocket Lab. While there are current challenges for our start up sector there’s also an undeniable energy and momentum in this developing eco-system.

Dotterel are focused on the commercial and government sectors – both of which have massive potential globally and in their key markets – the US, Australia and New Zealand. The potential and actual commercial applications of drones seemingly increases by the day from logistics such as medical supply deliveries, the film sector, through to unmanned aerial taxies. While the government sector applications range from coastal surveillance, defence and military uses, through to first responder and police enforcement applications.

Dotterel are a great example of innovation, technology, IP and the trade in ideas – increasingly the modern face of New Zealand’s trade with the United States. The example of Dotterel asks the question: how can we take advantage of New Zealand’s favourable conditions – in this case airspace regulations – to shape the development of this sector globally and create opportunities for New Zealanders?

Introduction

The drone industry is expected to be worth $100 billion globally in 2020. $70 billion of that is in military and defence applications, $17 billion in consumer drones, with the remaining $13 billion in government and business applications.

Despite these numbers, the chief executive and co-founder of Dotterel Technologies Shaun Edlin believes the drone industry is still very much in its infancy.

“While it may seem advanced, right now drone technology as a whole is at the very beginning of what is possible. The industry is trying to take flight time to useful levels while being able to carry meaningful payloads. The industry is also trying to solve the next set of challenges such as autonomy and improved safety.”

In the New Zealand context alone the promise is huge with drones having the potential to fundamentally change how New Zealanders do business, move goods, and even transport people. And there are some pretty big numbers being quoted quantifying the benefits. See this recent study commissioned by New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport.

Ministry of Transport: Key findings of the Drone Benefit Study

However, as Shaun talks about realising the promise of widespread drone use and uptake requires dealing with the twin issues of noise and safety – and this is where Dotterel and their technology comes in and its why their forward path is so exciting.

Noise: The problem and the promise

When you think of drones, it’s hard not to think of the continuous humming or buzzing noise they make.

To date, this noise has been a major barrier for the uptake of drones in many applications including recording for film, television and live broadcasting, undertaking covert surveillance operations and delivering consumer goods in urban areas.

“In the current drone trials for delivery of parcels happening around the world there has been public outrage due to the incessant noise,” Shaun says. “As a result, regulatory bodies are moving to set noise standards that will restrict their use. Our noise reduction technology is essential to help increase the public acceptance of drones, allowing them to achieve their commercial potential unrestricted by noise challenges.”

Dotterel has been in the business of making drones quieter and safer since 2015.

Their two main innovations are a physical sound shroud that deflects the humming noise of drones and a special array of microphones and onboard software that enables real time audio recording with the drone noise filtered out.

Shaun says their innovations are helping to open drones up to even more possibilities, like search and rescue operations.

“Today’s drones are carrying incredible visual sensors that provide eyes in the skies that can save lives. However, in terms of situational awareness we are only streaming one of the senses to the operator team on the ground: vision. The operator is still essentially deaf, unable to hear people yelling for help or detect gunfire. Drone operators haven’t had a function to verbally communicate with people in an emergency to understand their immediate needs. Dotterel’s aerial audio system allows operators to hear as well as see and that’s helping them to make better decisions to help save lives.”

The competitive advantage of being based in New Zealand

For Dotterel, being based in New Zealand has had significant advantages due to the Government’s favourable airspace regulations and willingness to be a global leader in autonomous air mobility trials.

“I really do think we’ll see some of the first commercial drone operations here in New Zealand because the Government is incredibly supportive in helping to create that industry.”

Shaun says it’s an exciting time to be part of New Zealand’s emerging technology ecosystems, with the favourable environment helping to lure logistic and mobility trials from around the world.

“Not only is this environment helping New Zealand drone companies and innovators, it is bringing talent from offshore. Big entities want to use our emerging favourable regulatory framework to do their own trials, initial demonstrations and commercial operations here.”

The US market opportunity

Dotterel’s focus is firmly fixed on the US market, due to it having the greatest potential for applying its products and solutions.

“The US is the biggest drone market in terms of commercial drone operations in defence and other commercial markets. For me, that means being on a plane to the US every month and selling and working with our customers over there but it’s the reality for a company like ours.”

Dotterel sees huge growth in the US market, especially with the US wanting to create a local equivalent to rival the dominance of Chinese drone manufacturer DJI. This is important given the US’ main application for drones is for defence and military operations, so having confidence the technology is safe and secure is paramount.

“It’s a really interesting geo-political space at the moment. I think we’ll see with growth of funding in the US drone companies and we’ll see some big US drone players emerge in the very near future.”

Because of this Shaun sees a clear opening for Dotterel in the US market.

“We’re leading the charge in noise and safety and we have the ability for our technology to become the industry standard solution so that’s the focus for what we’re aiming to do. We don’t want to make a feature on some specialist drones but ultimately we want our solution on every drone as the industry standard.”

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