How a computer science professor, high tech CEO, and RC hobbyist created some of the most accurate engineering drones on the market – in Montana.
Skyfish.ai launched in 2014 – but to this day, when the company announced the official launch of its platform, they operated under the radar. This is stealth mode for the drone industry: but not for their top technology partners (Sony, Bentley Systems) and their customers. Skyfish.ai, headquartered in Missoula, Montana, is poised to make an impact in the global commercial drone market. DRONELIFE spoke to its founders to learn more about Skyfish work drones, engineering accuracy, and the importance of US-made drones manufacturing
Orest Pilskalns, CEO of Skyfish.ai, grew up in Missoula and earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics and a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Montana. After several years at Lockheed Martin Astronautics, where he programmed groundbreaking machine learning technologies, Pilskalns received his PhD in computer science from Washington State University, specializing in mathematical approaches for secure, scalable software engineering design.
While teaching at WSU, he met Skyfish.ai’s chairman, John Livingston, who was then a high-tech CEO. “With my PhD students, John and I founded GeoMonkey, Inc., a technology company, to create a web-based platform for card collaboration,” says Pilskalns. “Eventually, GeoMonkey became the foundation for drone planning and navigation software.”
After Pilskalns returned to Montana in 2013, he reconnected with high school friend Dan Reed, a seasoned RC helicopter hobbyist who saw the value of map technology in the drone community. In talking to customers and suppliers at drone trade shows, the team realized that the commercial drone industry was the right place for their ideas.
“John, Dan and I decided to go headfirst into drone technology and start Skyfish 2014 to create an end-to-end platform for scanning infrastructure and creating technical models (3D reality models). using photogrammetry, ”says Pilskalns. “Skyfish uses various hardware and software trade secrets to modify the traditional photogrammetry process and create models with the best accuracy in the business.”
The Skyfish solution
The Skyfish solution includes commercial Skyfish M4 and Skyfish M6 drones, a long-life battery system and a unique rugged remote control.
“The Skyfish M4 drone was specially developed for photogrammetry and the creation of high-fidelity 3D reality models for technical inspection and measurement of critical infrastructures,” said a company press release. “The Skyfish M6 drone was specially developed for heavier payloads and environmentally conscious robot interactions. For example, the M6 can carry 12 pounds for over 30 minutes and trigger BVLOS mechanical actions at a distance of up to 5 miles. “
“Both the Skyfish M4 and Skyfish can support a wide variety of payloads, including electro-optic, thermal, methane detection, and LiDAR, and can be integrated with most custom payload requirements.” The Skyfish M4 and M6 drones are manufactured at a facility in Missoula, Montana and are manufactured in the United States
Drones for engineering
The Skyfish solutions were developed to meet the high demands on infrastructure inspections. Livingston, a veteran of high-tech companies, said the team understood from the start that development must be based on customer needs. “Orestes and I knew that the data collection process had to be trustworthy, very accurate, and precise in order to make technical decisions,” says Livingston. “Because we measured critical infrastructure targets like cell towers, the customer needed to know the exact height of a 200-foot tower. So we built a drone with the right combination of RTK location technology and cameras to deliver a 3D model created by engineers that could be trusted to be close to perfect accuracy. “
Skyfish.ai promises an accuracy of 1/32 inch, a precision that, according to Pilskalns, encompasses the entire inspection process: from data acquisition to processing and displaying the data. The Skyfish.ai platform includes new drones, a new on-board computer (Skymind ™), new ground control software and a new web-based processing and analysis system (Skyportal ™).
“Accuracy is a little bit of everything. The saying “garbage in is garbage out” is very true, ”says Pilskalns.
“Skyfish is creating the most accurate 3D reality models in the world today – that’s what our mobile operator customers tell us,” adds Livingston. “We’re the only company in the world that makes drones specifically for 3D modeling. We also do our data processing in-house to improve the accuracy of the final results we control.”
Commercial acceptance and ease of use
2021 is the perfect time for Skyfish.ai to get out of stealth mode and offer its top-notch drones for tech. The commercial drone market is growing rapidly as infrastructure companies recognize the significant benefits of the technology.
“Drones provide an accurate, scalable solution for understanding tower inventory from different perspectives, including maintenance, sales and engineering,” says Pilskalns.
“The tower industry uses drone technology because it is safer, cheaper, and the measurement and inspection results are much higher quality than a manual ascent,” adds Livingston. “It’s also incredible to be able to share just one permanent, perfect 3D reality model scan with your colleagues and customers. There is so much detail that you can zoom in to see every inch of the tower and terrain. And you can do technical analysis and even export the model to Risa and CAD to create drawings and run simulations. “
Developments in terms of autonomy and usability have also contributed significantly to the introduction of drone technology in companies, allowing subject matter experts to deploy drones on site.
“Our drone is designed so that it can be deployed quickly so that the pilots can work efficiently on site,” explains Pilskalns. “Once the drone is removed from the case, it is essentially ready to use.”
“The workflow for inspecting and scanning a cell tower is simple,” says Livingston. After marking the height of the RAD centers and the center of the spire – a software-controlled process that takes a few minutes – the Skymind ™ on-board computer activates and generates all the orbits required for a perfect model and executes the flight path. and takes around 1500 high-resolution images – all autonomously. “
The pilot then uploads the photo data to our Skyfish Skyportal ™ data center and within a few hours a crystal clear 3D reality model is generated, analyzed, shared in the team and exported, ”says Livingston.
Drones Made in the USA
The burgeoning US drone industry is thriving. Given recent developments in the US and the trade dispute between China and concerns about the security of Chinese platforms, Skyfish.ai has generated a lot of interest. However, according to Pilskalns, there are other reasons companies choose US-made drones
“Work drones have to be adjusted vertically. Proximity to customers and understanding their needs is a key to success in any company, ”he says. “I think that by working with infrastructure companies, we can develop tailor-made, functional solutions. Support is easy when you are in the same region. “
Miriam McNabb is editor-in-chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has written over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For advice or writing on the drone industry, email Miriam.
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