Brian Deatherage (above left) is the CEO of Phoenix Drone Services, a company he and his colleague Mark Yori (above right) created when their hobbyist love of drones expanded into commercial operations.
1. Hey Brian. Why don’t you start by telling us a little about your journey into the world of drones? When, how and why did you first start using this technology?
Well Phoenix Drone Services actually started life as a hobby company called ArizonaFPV. Mark Yori and I used toy multi-copters with a cell phone attached to the bottom to create our first real-estate marketing video. From there we emerged from flying toys to really nice cinematography grade equipment.
Since we are very much into the technology we started seeing 3D mapping technology moving into the drone world and, like with everything else, we wanted to be at the bleeding edge of this movement. So we teamed up with , out of Scottsdale Arizona, using the eBee to create maps and work with copper mines and construction companies. The results have been nothing short of fabulous. Being able to deliver highly accurate 3D maps faster, safer, and more accurately than our customers had ever seen before was a very gratifying feeling.
Being able to deliver highly accurate 3D maps faster, safer, and more accurately than our customers had ever seen before was a very gratifying feeling.
Watch Brian’s drone mapping video:
2. Can you tell us about one of your favorite or most challenging drone projects? What made this stand out and what did you learn?
We actually have two projects that stand out for different reasons. Our first challenging drone project came when we were asked to film all 36 holes of a prestigious golf course. This was very early on—the FAA had not started talking about domestic drones, people had no idea what a multicopter even was and the technology was nowhere near as advanced as it is today.
The challenge here came when we were attempting to fly the fairway. About half way down the signal would cut out and our drone would return home, thus ruining our seamless long video shot of the course. We ended up powering the drone on at the T-box and driving the golf cart to the end of the fairway, then flying the multicopter up to 65 feet and turning our radio off—the drone in turn made a perfect flight line back to the T-Box in failsafe. What we learned is that we needed the Bluetooth waypoint device to be developed—it’s now available—to make this a seamless flight without the signal.
The second really epic challenge came when working with our eBee. We were 10 miles into some really rough country, with 1,000-foot razor sharp rock cliffs, thick high voltage power lines everywhere, huge black birds in the air, and one landing area that was about 200 feet long but had a steep incline and a slight curve. It was also on the edge of a cliff.
We were 10 miles into some really rough country, with 1,000-foot razor sharp rock cliffs, thick high voltage power lines everywhere, huge black birds in the air, and one landing area that was about 200 feet long but had a steep incline and a slight curve. It was also on the edge of a cliff
We performed the job in five flights, but because of the cliff landing with the eBee was really very difficult. However, after spending some time in its eMotion software’s simulator mode, I was able to program the eBee to land perfectly. This is in terrain that most would say it was impossible to land in. Even in the high winds that were present at the end of one of our flights the eBee was able to combat these and line itself up for a perfect landing. Words can’t express how amazing this was, you really had to be there!
3. What impact would you say drone technology has had on your working life?
It’s most definitely been a positive impact. Being able to work closely with this emerging technology, being able to deliver data sets, videos, and to help others, including children, become interested in this technology has been very rewarding. And since drones allow us to perform tasks faster, safer, and more accurately than before, our services pay for themselves—when I’m able to save a client money we all win!
Being able to work closely with this emerging technology, being able to deliver data sets, videos, and to help others, including children, become interested in this technology has been very rewarding
4. What kind of role do you see drone tech playing in the future for companies such as yours? Can you imagine what your working life might look several years down the line?
This is a really interesting question. We’ve worked with drones since 2008, but it still amazes us that on a daily basis customers suggest new uses for our drone hardware. Being a drone services company we can only anticipate that we’ll continue to press the limits of this technology, to inspire children, and to work with some of the best engineers and companies in the world.
… it still amazes us that on a daily basis customers suggest new uses for our drone hardware
A side goal of ours is to venture into the underwater sonar mapping world as well. I recently acquired my Master Diver Scuba certification to be able to start working with underwater robots.
5. If you could give 3 tips to a budding dronepreneur, what would these be?
First, don’t let people discourage you from your goals. Many will try and hold you down and shoot your ideas out of the sky, but hard work and dedication will pay off.
Second, join a local drone user group, be active on social media and share your projects with others online. The local users group in Arizona has been an amazing resource for us in terms of hiring talent as well as getting younger children involved. We’ve won many clients simply by meeting them through the group.
Third, stay on top of the legal changes in this industry. They change often and the steps required to continue to work legally sometimes take months to complete.
Great, thanks for your time Brian!
Phoenix Drone Services
Industries served: mining, construction, geo-technical engineering, environmental, agriculture, video creation
Drones: senseFly eBee, DJI S900 Black Magic, custom built multicopters, Ritewing fixed-wings
Software: eMotion, Postflight Terra3D, AutoCAD, Pix4D, ArizonaFPV Search and Rescue Application, GlobalMapper
Avg. flights per month: 30+
Total flight hours: thousands (3-4 per day since 2008)
Dream robot: an ASIMO to make pancakes in the morning