Predictions around what 2017 has in store for commercial drone regulation and technology are wide and varied, but the kinds of shakeups and changes we’ll see within the industry itself this year might be even more intriguing. It didn’t take long for one of those changes to be announced, as new leadership has emerged at Kespry, maker of automated drone systems, to guide the company forward in an especially powerful direction.
Earlier this month, Kespry announced that George Mathew has been appointed as the company’s new CEO and chairman. Mathew comes over to the company after serving as president and COO of self-service analytics software provider Alteryx by way of recruitment from Lightspeed Ventures, which is one of the lead investors in Kespry. Mathew’s background seemed to indicate a focus for Kespry around topics like analytics and big data, but as I found out in the interview below, Mathew thinks of the technology and the industry in a far more holistic manner.
We’ve detailed the sort of efficiency and safety that users can find with a Kespry drone, and Mathew has already been quoted as saying that Kespry’s end-to-end solution is already enabling new uses in various markets. I caught up with Mathew to elaborate around what those new uses look like for specific users, how that will change the approach professionals can take, and plenty more.
Jeremiah Karpowicz: Can you tell us anything about how this opportunity at Kespry came about, or perhaps what you found most attractive about it?
George Mathew: It came about when the folks at Lightspeed reached out directly to me regarding how the commercial drone industry was continuing to accelerate and evolve. The more I started to look at the market opportunity within the space, and specifically in some of the key industrial use cases, the more I felt like there was a real opportunity to deliver a much more integrated turnkey solution. To date, there hadn’t been a lot of integrated end-to-end solutions working effectively in the space.
I look at this as an unbounded opportunity since we’re talking about a market that’s really opened up with regulatory changes under Part 107. The complete solution Kespry was providing represented a real opportunity to give this market what it needs at this exact moment, which is not just the drone itself, but an offering that will enable the data analytical pipelines, reporting capabilities and downstream integration into 3rd party applications in a seamless manner.
What I found incredibly compelling about Kespry is the fact that creating this sort of solution was the mandate from day one. It meant the opportunities in the market lined up really well with the company’s position in it. That’s why I was excited to join Kespry when I did.
In what ways will your background and experience with analytics influence how Kespry moves forward?
I think we’re still living in a generational shift towards self-service analytics that are pervasive inside of organizations. I’ve been involved with these kinds of self-service capabilities at Alteryx for the last 5 1/2 years, and they’re getting decision quality data and analytics into the hands of business users.
What I really appreciate about what Kespry has been doing is that they’ve focused on specific verticals. These solutions provide a full capability set that goes from the drone system to the analytical pipeline to package reporting and output for operators and downstream analysts. It’s very clear that Kespry’s success is going to be driven by the vertical depth of the use case and the ability to have that entire experience be delivered in a seamless way.
I thought that was something unique inside of this space and something we’re going to build on, because it gives users specificity, but the prevalence of analytics is going to continue to evolve beyond vertical applications. Horizontal capabilities are and will be just as pervasive.
How will that evolution influence what Kespry does from a horizontal perspective?
Ultimately, these elements play into one another. We have to be a great platform provider regardless of the industry or specific use.
We have to find repeatability and scale across multiple industries and multiple use cases, and that is still somewhat of a horizontal activity for us to be delivering. Regardless of those specifics, in the eyes of our customers, what we’re giving to them is a complete product that is specific to their needs.
As the Tech Crunch article points out, making data useful and accessible plays right into your background in data and analytics, and ultimately the data captured by a drone is more important than the drone itself. Is a focus on “data over drones” something you’ll look to showcase internally and/or externally?
Well, I do want to pause for a moment and reiterate the innovation and investment that’s going to continue on the hardware side. If you look at the commercial drone space, especially when you get into some of these industry use cases, what’s really fascinating to see is that there is still evolution in the hardware. Let me give you a few examples of that.
You certainly have seen the capabilities that a company like Kespry is delivering for high resolution imagery being converted by photogrammetry into 3D models, and that’s something we’ve seen play very strongly in a few use cases for the last two years or so. But now think about the additional sensors that are emerging on the drone system itself. Today, with the Kespry 2.0 system, we have a one-dimensional LiDAR capability. As LiDAR becomes lighter and lighter, there’s no reason why, for instance, 2D multi-pass LIDAR can’t be introduced into the drone system of the future. New sensors which can identify heat and humidity from the drone itself are also being developed.
There will still be innovation on the hardware side, because I don’t think the industrial side of the drone market is one where you have that complete, finished hardware platform that you can build all the software, analytics, and services on top of. I think there will be a slower evolution on the hardware side for at least the next half decade, but there will still be strong innovation with the hardware.
It’s a great point, and a good reminder we can’t get ahead of ourselves. Sometimes I get caught up thinking about how software will enable concepts like the “mine of the future“, but getting there isn’t just a software issue, is it?
I think it’s a question of rate of change. I think the rate of change around hardware innovation is probably going to slow down in comparison to the acceleration we’ll see on the software side, where more applications, more analytical models and more capabilities for users to have an integrated experience will be enabled. It’s undoubtedly an area of tremendous opportunity though.
As you mentioned, being able to offer users an end-to-end drone solution is something that Kespry has been focused on since the company was founded. Can you tell us what this kind of offer means to the market and to individual users?
The customers that we serve today, which are the commercially orientated operators working in specific industries, need something that works. They can’t be focused on having a drone pilot work with a joystick that’s necessary to do the workload to collect the data. They can’t be focused on taking a SIM card out of the drone and transferring that to a computer.
In this regard, we’ve really thought through a lot of the key elements and how we automate that entire experience so that it functions with the most minimal amount of user intervention needed. I think this is where we are going to continue to innovate and push the envelope, because we think that autonomy on the drone and within an analytical pipeline can generate a real solution today while opening the door to much more powerful capabilities tomorrow.
This is where we’re pushing the envelope. We think the world should have a much more integrated, complete, autonomous solution, and that’s what our customers really want and value today.
Are there challenges with offering and utilizing this kind of complete solution though? After all, when we’re talking about industries that Kespry is focused on like mining and insurance, we’re dealing with needs that are very different, not to mention workflows and processes that vary from one organization to another.
When you think about the Kespry solution, regardless of the industry, the question is about a change in behavior. You can rethink key elements of how you do certain processes if you think about where the drone can be most applicably fit into your specific use case.
In the mining/aggregates space, it’s all about being able to get accuracy, timeliness, and safety in the picture. When you have the Kespry drone fly, it’s accurate because it’s taking more data points to create the volumetric data surrounding an asset, versus you doing that through traditional survey equipment by climbing the stockpile. That ends up being much safer because there’s no human having to climb the stockpile. Rather than days, all of that can be completed within the hour.
The behavior change goes much deeper though. Historically, if you wanted to do stockpile and aggregate measurements, that was a quarterly or even annual exercise. The change with the Kespry drone system and the fact that we’re providing it on a subscription basis is the fact that you can fly multiple times per month, and even multiple times per week if you wanted to. That gives you a much more continuous view in terms of change in the amount of inventory to calculate the impact from a downstream forecasting perspective.
In the insurance space, we’re talking about creating that same kind of efficiency, but it’s not just about the fact that we can autonomously gather data to determine the damage from something like a hail strike. The difference is that we can do it in a way that’s quite different from the standard process.
The standard process in the industry is to take a 10×10 square of a roof, count the number of hail strikes on that square and then extrapolating that across the roof. What if you can actually take imagery, convert it to 3D models and use machine learning to identify all the hail that’s occurred on a roof at any given time? I think that changes what we can actually do from an inspection standpoint, versus the standard process that’s been in place.
The behavioral aspect of what you can do today with the much more repeatable, reliable, timely solution that we’re delivering is an indicator of what’s possible in any industry, regardless of how it’s used by a particular company or operator.
I mentioned the changes and shakeups that 2017 is set to bring in my intro, and I think the recent announcements around layoffs and products that won’t be delivered are just a hint of what the year has in store for us. What would you say to anyone concerned about where things are headed with the drone industry this year in light of such headlines?
My view, and I’ll be specific about the commercial and industrial aspect of the drone market, is that we’re just in the first few innings of the ballgame. I think there are a lot of false starts when new industries emerge, and there are challenges when investments go into situations where the right use cases are not selected, or the right applications aren’t understood.
Speaking about Kespry specifically, we’re excited about where things are headed because we’ve taken the true north of serving our customers. We haven’t gotten ahead of ourselves in terms of over-investment into the space. We’ve largely taken a measured view around how we need to raise the appropriate amount of capital to invest properly in all the necessary disciplines, whether that be hardware, software, manufacturing, marketing or sales to scale Kespry as it’s gone into the current industries that we’re in, and slowly to the industries that we’re planning on going to.
There are some tough conversations occurring among many companies in this space, and we wish them the best. Frankly, we’d rather see more people succeed in it, because at the end of the day a vibrant market is a good thing for everyone.
Above all else, what’s one thing you want people to know about what Kespry will bring to their customers and the industry as a whole in 2017?
Our belief is around delivering an aerial intelligence platform that’s an end-to-end solution. It’s the experience of being able to provide autonomy to the drone, taking the data that emerges from the drone and automating analytical models that are built from it. Users can then take advantage of the data that’s being generated.
We think that one of the key differentiators over time will be around machine learning and artificial intelligence because they’ll continue to improve the fidelity of the applications and the analytics that are being provided. That’s why they are an area of focus and intention for Kespry going into 2017. We’re absolutely delighted to serve our current use cases, especially in the aggregates arena, as we’re expanding into a number of key industries.