Watts Innovations keeps something of a low profile – but industry insiders know that the Huntsville, MD-based company engineers and manufactures exceptionally high quality, heavy lift drones designed for both pilot and end user.
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Watts Innovations designed the platform used for Walmart’s retail drone delivery program, and their US-manufactured, NDAA-compliant PRISM Sky platform is in demand for customers in a wide variety of applications.
At the Xponential 2023 show in Denver this week, Watts Innovations launched the PRISM Lite: a more affordable option ready for system integrators, with the same quality and flexibility found in their flagship platform.
DRONELIFE had the opportunity to speak with Founder and CEO Bobby Watts and CCO Sauming Seto about the new product, and about the innovative and tightly knit team behind it.
“The PRISM Lite was rolled out with industrial use in mind,” says Watts Innovations CCO Sauming Seto. “Many customers are looking for a replacement for [their current fleet] of industrial drones.”
Watts says that responding to specific needs is a deliberate approach for the company. Watts Innovations has two types of customers: those who simply want a ready-to-fly product, and those who want a more customized platform for a specific use case. “Every new platform we’ve created has been driven by a customer with a need,” Watts said. “This is our fourth drone that we’ve developed to meet the needs of our customer. We’re pilots and engineers: we really understand what the customers want. When they come to us, we can take our base platform and then figure out how to unlock the capabilities of our technology for them. That’s been the success of our program.”
PRISM Lite is designed to be a cost-effective alternative for customers who don’t need the full fleet management capabilities of the PRISM Sky, but still want a well-made platform that can lift heavy things. PRISM Lite is based on the ArduPilot Cube, an easy platform for system integrators without full fleet management needs. Intended for operation under Part 107 regulations, the PRISM Lite has a 55 pound max takeoff weight with a 25 pound payload capacity. PRISM Lite is also fully NDAA-compliant, Remote ID ready, and manufactured and supported from the Watts Innovations Huntsville, MD facility.
“PRISM Sky is a fantastic platform with every feature you could ever want – but not everyone needs that,” Watts said. “Now, it’s a great conversation to have with a customer – what problem are you trying to solve? Some people are looking for a full platform, some people just want to work on a single application – we have options for them.”
PRISM Lite can be equipped with Watts Innovations 12S smart batteries, also produced in Maryland. Smart batteries allow commercial operators to optimize their battery life, with cycle counting and battery management systems. These systems allow operators to understand battery life in terms of work hours and missions, driving the price per use down. “It’s really as revolutionary as the smart phone battery indicator, that tells you how much battery you have left,” Seto said.
“We’re always trying to bring the cost down, and the usability up,” said Watts. The more stripped down platform of the PRISM Lite has a correspondingly lower price, which Watts says is one of the lowest in the product class. “We pass as much of our cost savings on to our customer as possible.”
Watts Innovations expects that PRISM Lite will be on the shelves in August of 2023, contact the company for pricing and availability.
Watts Innovations, and Manufacturing in the US
Watts Innovations don’t just manufacture drones, but many of the parts at their Maryland facility. Manufacturing many components themselves isn’t always easy, but it’s a long-term strategy. “It’s a double-edged sword,” said Watts.”If we purchase [components] off the shelf, that saves us time – but if anything requires customization, sometimes it turns out to be easier to make it ourselves.”
The Watts manufacturing facility has grown twice in the last 8 months to accommodate customer demand for the PRISM Sky platform. Now two buildings, Watts is able to deeply support their customer base and scale their manufacturing by optimizing the skills of a close and highly qualified team.
“We have a tight team, and people wear multiple hats. We really do put every product to the test before we send it out,” said Watts. “We do as much design and assembly in-house as possible, and the person who designs the part works closely with the production team to make sure that they can produce it at scale. That same person might be on a customer support call. We’re very vertically oriented.”
Not only does every team member take on multiple responsibilities, every one of the Watts Innovations engineers is also a pilot: and all of them get input into the company’s product path. “I’ve been very open with the engineering team, letting them decide what products we build,” said Watts. “It’s a very open dialogue. Every one has a say.”
Sauming Seto joined Watts recently from open source platform solutions provider Auterion, where she worked with Watts as a customer. “Looking at our team, I can confidently say that we are small but mighty,” Seto said. “What we have behind those workshop doors is really special. We have an incredible conversion rate when we invite people behind those doors and people understand our product and how much customer service we provide.”
Watts also credits his team with the success of their company and their products. “Our team really cares. They care about our customers, and the safety and quality of the product that we’re making,” said Watts. “I feel good about that.”
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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