A clear, blue Tuesday morning transformed Dan Burton’s life from citizen to military man to entrepreneur.
Burton watched the Twin Towers crumble on Sept. 11 from Lower Manhattan. The horror of the day motivated Burton to enlist in the military. He served as a Marine Infantry Officer in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2007 to 2011.
He didn’t get to fly any drones while enlisted, but he saw the machines evolve and change military actions. He knew this technology could help transform the business world, as well. DroneBase was born. Burton, the founder and CEO of DroneBase, launched the company in 2014 and recently secured $7.5 million in new funding to expand its services to the solar industry.
“In Iraq and Afghanistan, I got to see drone technology in action and came way true believer”, Burton told Solar Magazine. “I could tell back then that with technology advances, drones inevitability will commercialize, and more and more have an impact on a daily business and daily life back in the United States.”
Democratizing the air
While Burton was enlisted in the military, he compared the advancement of drones to that of computer technology, which use to take up entire rooms and now can weigh less than two pounds.
“Drones were a big airplane, they took off from a runway, and it took 55 people to fly it,” Burton said.
Drones were very expensive at first, but by the time Burton was deployed to Afghanistan, there were backpack drones.
“The tech democratized the air,” he said.
It allowed smaller and smaller units or groups of people to get access to the air. The data and imagery you can get from the air allow companies to make better decisions.
How drones help the clients
DroneBase works with clients ranging from large solar asset owners to residential solar. Clients can log on to DroneBase’s software platform and will be greeted by insights from the company’s team.
Clients can see all their facilities, whether that’s one site or 100 different sites. DroneBase will prioritize a client’s alerts based on what sites need attention. For example, if three sites have critical damage, clients can click in and see their solar field or utility-grade field with pictures that were taken two to three days ago, maximum. DroneBase will even calculate how much power a client is losing from any malfunctions and monetary losses. Allowing clients to understand the health and performance of each panel can help optimize power and profit.
“DroneBase’s mission is to provide enterprise customers with a better, faster, and safer way to access the health of industrial and commercial assets,” Burton said. “For our customers and our partners, we deeply try to be the absolute best in class across both data analyst and data capture.”
Alongside the images, no data is present to clients without a DroneBase analyst looking at it first. DroneBase has about 50 full-time employees working the backend. This type of virtually instant coverage saves clients time and money.
“Working with DroneBase improves a client’s ability to analyze their workflow,” Daryl Watkins, Vice President of Enterprise Solutions at DroneBase, told Solar Magazine. “No secret that drones have been of great use in the solar industry for years.”
“All the data from the inspection gets brought in house and we prepare and analyze data for our clients. It still doesn’t go out the door and without human-assisted analysis.”
Watkins added that DroneBase benefits its clients because the company can analyze all their fields across the country, reducing the number of vendors the client would need to deploy nationally. DroneBase can scale right alongside their client’s fields.
“The hardest thing is to scale,” Burton said. This is why the launch of DroneBase Europe makes the founder so proud. “It’s easy to do a cool demo or show proof of concept is nice, too. But when you think about the number of solar assets in the world, and how broad the use cases are from residential to utility, it’s not easy to provide complete coverage, and we can.”
“Our drones will feel like magic for a solar asset owner,” Watkins said. “They sit at a desk at home and log in and see a great scale overview and even any panel to panel anomalies.”
Who is in the sky
DroneBase works on a contract basis with thousands of registered drone pilots across the country. This enables them to have coverage of nearly the entire United States, and their next goal is international. The company has already expanded to work with a German subsidiary.
Burton boasts the company’s “novel training program,” that has trained hundreds of pilots in a specifically targeted training at an infrared training center. They learn thermography, but also drone captures. The program is a completely tailored training specific to solar assets.
After a pilot is trained, DroneBase works to engage them where they live. By utilizing local talent to the proximity of the solar asset, DroneBase can work with more pilots, cover more areas, and charge clients less.
Once a solar asset needs surveying, a pilot will take the drone to the edge of the solar field, or general area, and fly it above to take pictures and run analytics. Generally, no one else is around the solar field, allowing the pilots to continue to operate even during COVID-19.
DroneBase’s is more than just solar
When Burton founded DroneBase in 2014, it started with inspecting the health of buildings. Now, in addition to the renewables space, DroneBase provides solutions for property management, commercial and residential real estate, as well as insurance and engineering and construction.
DroneBase’s new investors, Valor Equity Partners and Razi Ventures, joined Union Square Ventures (USV), Upfront Ventures, Hearst Ventures, Pritzker Group Venture Capital, and DJI in the round of funding that helped them expand into solar.
“This funding will drive our laser focus on serving the renewable energy sector,” said Daryl Watkins, Vice President of Enterprise Solutions at DroneBase. “With multiple enterprise wins this year with OEMs and asset owners in both wind and solar, we have further cemented our position in the renewables market.” comment