Grand Forks drone companies announce partnerships, expansion

GRAND FORKS -- Two Grand Forks companies are forging partnerships beyond the state border in hopes of capturing a larger share of the fast-growing unmanned aircraft systems market.

GRAND FORKS -- Two Grand Forks companies are forging partnerships beyond the state border in hopes of capturing a larger share of the fast-growing unmanned aircraft systems market.

Aerial inspection and photography company SkySkopes announced Wednesday it had formed an alliance with Interactive Aerial, based in Traverse City, Mich. As part of the move, SkySkopes will be opening an office in Michigan, likely sharing space with its new partner.

"We're planning to expand to other cities in North Dakota as well," SkySkopes President and CEO Matt Dunlevy said. "I thought we would have done that before we got to Michigan, but the opportunity presented by working with Interactive Aerial was too good to pass up."

Also announcing a collaboration with an out-out-state firm is EdgeData, a local company producing software that aids in the inspection of wind turbines using unmanned aircraft, also known as drones. Its partnership with HUVRdata of Austin, Texas, is expected to yield a more robust offering of data capture, analytical software and data storage capabilities.

"This partnership will give wind professionals more powerful tools for delivering (return on investment), with an unprecedented range and depth of data collection, analytics and reporting capabilities," EdgeData President Chris Shroyer said in a statement. "It is about the data and the associated intelligence -- this is the future of the wind industry."


Finding a niche

In the emerging UAS industry, many companies focus on an area of expertise so partnerships can be key to expanding service offerings.

"We've always got to be moving forward and moving quickly," Dunlevy said.

While SkySkopes' inspection portfolio includes cell towers and other above-ground utility infrastructure, Interactive Aerial is exploring another niche -- interior inspection. Examples of interior inspections can include flights inside large chemical storage tanks or in an underground environment where light and connection to GPS are scarce.

Interactive Aerial manufactures the Legacy One, a small quadcopter designed for navigating indoor environments. It's outfitted with software that allows the aircraft to detect and avoid objects and walls.

Through the partnership, SkySkopes would have access to fly the Legacy One as part of indoor inspections.

"This alliance allows us both to grow in premier UAS markets, allowing opportunities that will span across the entire northern part of the United States," Interactive Aerial CEO Christian Smith said.


Market share

Using unmanned aircraft to complete inspection work is one of the most populars uses of the technology following shooting videos and pictures.

While companies such as SkySkopes and Interactive conduct flights that gather inspection data, others such as EdgeData take that data, run it through software and produce useful information for customers.

In the case of wind turbines, data gathered through inspections can be used to pinpoint damaged areas on blades, assess how much damage there is, manage when turbines are due for inspection and other possibilities.

As EdgeData doesn't fly its own drones, HUVRdata would conduct that part of the operation. HUVRdata provides services targeted at the solar and wind, energy and agriculture industries that include inspections and cloud storage for data.

"With our shared commitments to accuracy, security and continuous innovation, EdgeData and HUVRdata make natural partners," EdgeData CEO Lonnie Bloomquist said in a statement.

The pair of companies made its announcement last week during the AWEA Windpower 2016 conference in New Orleans.

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