Drones are another technology impressively ripping through the minds of citizens of the world just like AI is now.
They are mini robots famed for currently having many functions, ranging from monitoring climate change to carrying out search operations after natural disasters, photography, filming, and delivering goods.
This means with drones, humans can now access hitherto inaccessible places and spots and gather priceless intelligence.
However, their most well-known and, perhaps, controversial use is by the military for reconnaissance, surveillance, and targeted attacks.
The drones are powered by IMU which is a technology that can detect the current acceleration rate using one or more accelerometers.
It does so by detecting changes in various rotational attributes using the gyroscope.
These are technologies that enable the drone to move into the air and hover or fly in any direction.
Wingtra’s drones are used to perform surveying missions by organizations around the world, including NASA and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Now the startup is mapping out a new expansion strategy after landing $22 million in Series B funding, which it will use to improve its current tech and add new features.
“Our product roadmap is highly confidential, but let’s say our high-level vision looking a decade or so forth is to take people out of the loop and have a completely automated data collection, processing, and analysis,” Co-Founder and CEO Maximillion Boosfeld explained recently.
Based in Zurich, Switzerland, with offices in Fort Lauderdale and Zagreb and nearly 200 employees, Wingtra says it is the world’s largest producer of commercial vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) drones.
It makes mapping drones, develops software for fully autonomous flights, and the WingtraPilot app, which collects and processes aerial survey data.
Wingtra drones are used by surveyors in a wide range of industries, including construction, mining, environmental monitoring, agriculture, urban planning, and land management.
Wingtra customers are mainly operating in construction and infrastructure, open pit mining and urban planning, and land development industries.
Investors in Wingtra’s Series B in aerial mobility fund DiamondStream Partners, EquityPitcher Ventures, Verve Ventures, Ace & Company, the European Innovation Council Fund (EIC Fund), Ace & Company, and Spring Mountain Capital Founder John L. Steffens.
The genesis of Wingtra came together in 2014 when Boosfeld, Basil Weibel, Elias Kleimann, and Sebastian Verling started working on a thesis paper while studying at ETH Zurich’s Autonomous Systems Lab.
The paper proposed a small unmanned aerial vehicle design that could take off and land vertically like a helicopter but transition to a fixed-wing mode for long-range flight.
While still working on their thesis, the four registered Wingtra as a company to develop and commercialize the tech.
They got accepted into the Wyss Zurich accelerator program, an incubator for commercializing scientific breakthroughs from ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich.
During their time in the program, the Wingtra One, a professional mapping, and surveying UAV, was developed.
Wingtra’s flagship drone is now the WingtraOne VTOL commercial drone, which it says is used by hundreds of businesses and organisations in 96 countries, including, NASA, Texas A&M University, The Ohio State University, CEMEX, Rio Tinto, Army Corps of Engineers and Kenya Red Cross. In total, WingtraOnes make more than 100,000 flights each year and has mapped 18 million acres of land and sea.
The startup’s second generation drone, released in 2021, is called the WingtraOne Gen II and creates survey-grade 2D and 3D maps with RGB cameras.
Wingtra says that a single flight covering over 100 hectares can be digitized at 0.5 in/px, or up to 30 times faster and 90% cheaper than terrestrial surveying.
The three main industries Wingtra sells to are construction and industry, urban planning, and land development and mining.
Boosfeld told TechCrunch that the biggest challenge of managing such large assets is the availability of up-to-date, accurate, and affordable data. Lack of data leads to inefficiencies, high costs, and preventable CO2 emissions.
But terrestrial surveying is labour intensive and can be dangerous, such as in the case of large construction sites, and impossible to do without risking lives and fines when there are natural disasters like landslides.
Wingtra drones are meant to be operational under all those conditions and make asset management more efficient and sustainable at scale.
The startup says they are capable of collecting survey-grade data up to 30 times faster than other surveying methods, including other drones or terrestrial tools, and need minimal training to operate because of the WingtraPilot app’s simple operations system and automated route planning.
One example of an organization that uses Wingtra drones to make collecting surveying data more efficient is the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), which uses them to oversee the upkeep and maintenance of the state’s roadway infrastructure.
The ALDOT flies drones over construction projects each business day of the week and uses data collected to help with things like making sure erosion control measures, including silt fences, are installed properly.
Another example of how Wingtra is used is the Red Cross in Kenya, which deployed the startup’s drones and software to manage a significant locust invasion.
Data gathered using Wingtra was able to track the migration of locust swarms, and crop damage and ultimately make decisions about how to mitigate the invasion.
In terms of competition, Wingtra’s best-known rivals are eBee from AgEagle and DJI’s Phantom 4 RTK and M300.
Boosfeld says eBee is the first drone that paved the way for accessible industry-level drone photogrammetry.
Both lead the survey and mapping fields for different reasons—eBee X is a well-industrialized and reliable fixed-wing survey and mapping drone, while WingtraOne offers a VTOL combination with top-grade image quality for coverage.
But their key differentiation is their take-off and landing technology, said Boosfield.
WingtraOne’s VTOL lets it lift off and touch down like a multi-copter, before transitioning to fixed-wing to cover wide areas.
On the other hand, the eBee X is a traditional fixed-wing drone that requires hand launching and lands on its belly, which Boosfield explains means operators need to make sure launches and landings happen with wide clearance and on terrain that is dry and soft enough to support it.
He added that higher-end aerial mapping cameras are heavy and fixed-wing drones like eBee X cannot support their weight.
“Currently, only VTOL drones can offer an image resolution of 42MP, which translates to better accuracy, and ultimately more reliable map reconstruction,” he said.
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