Delair Continues Expansion in North America with Increased Focus on Drone Software: An Interview with Benjamin Benharrosh, Delair Co-Founder
BY Isabella Lee22 August 2018
Our first meeting with Delair occurred in July, when we learned about their work with fixed winged drones, their record-setting beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone flights, and their strategic partnership with Intel for the development of the Intel Insight Platform.
We sat down with Delair again, this time with co-founder Benjamin Benharrosh, and we discussed the long-term vision he holds for the company.
Delair is a global producer of fixed-wing drone hardware and associated analytics software used to deliver insights for smarter business decisions. Benjamin helped start the company in Toulouse, France, but his current focus for the company is its continued expansion in the United States and Canada, as well as growing the software side of the business.
What drove the decision to expand Delair to the U.S.?
Delair has been an international company from the beginning. The drone market is pretty open in Europe, but we had bigger ambitions for the company. So, very quickly, we opened up sales operations in China, Africa, Latin America, and the U.S.
More and more, we are trying to evolve our image and our brand, and we want to be known more as an international company.
What were some challenges or opportunities of expanding Delair to the U.S.?
The U.S. has always been a struggle because of regulations. When we decided to come here about two years ago it was because we knew that the regulations would open up.
When I came to America and started the business we had zero revenue. Now, today, about 25-30% of the revenue we generate comes from North America, and we have about 12 resellers. We’ve been very successful, and also signed a strategic alliance with Intel, which is a critical part of our long-term strategy globally.
Congratulations on making such progress in just two years.
Thank you. And we think in the future the U.S. will account for even more than 25-30% of our revenue. It will be our biggest market. There are still some limitations because of regulations. Some changes need to happen in order for business to really grow, but we are bullish on this market and believe we are well-positioned for the opportunities that will be available here.
How are regulations different in the U.S. compared to France?
The biggest one for us is that it’s more difficult to gain permission for BVLOS operations in the U.S. In fact, of all the places we operate, the U.S. is probably the most difficult market in this area. Compared to France, where in 2012 there was a regulation to open BVLOS operations, and six months later almost anybody could fly our DT18 UAV BVLOS in France.
Now, six years later in the U.S., we are still not at this stage. So there is a huge delay in the U.S., while in France we’ve been certified for BVLOS operations, as well as in six other countries around the world. We are very much a pioneer and expert in BVLOS, so opening the regulations for BVLOS operations in the U.S. will be a great opportunity.
Delair has produced drone hardware fit for long-distance fights. Tell us about your new product release, the DT26X LiDAR.
The DT26X LiDAR is a new product for long-range laser mapping, surveying, monitoring, and inspections. Equipped with a light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensor, it has a lot of advantages when when it comes to getting very accurate detail.
It’s based on a dual-sensor scanner, so it’s much more accurate. In the LiDAR space, we are among the only ones to offer a reliable fixed-wing solution. Unlike other LiDAR-equipped drones, ours can collect data using both LiDAR and photogrammetry in a single flight, which can last up to 110 minutes, increasing productivity and decreasing operational costs. We believe that this product will be very attractive in surveying and mapping but also in the utilities market, rail inspection, oil and gas, and so on. It’s a wonderful and unique product.
One of your most popular new drones is the UX11. Can you tell us more about the integration of software with the UX11 hardware?
The UX11 is an ideal solution for precise and safe mapping in a number of industries. That’s a product where we know there is a market, and that’s the product that most of our dealers are selling today. It’s meant to be our prosumer market product, and that’s the one we’ve made the most traction with.
The unique quality of the UX11 is that it’s capable of onboard data processing and delivers a lot of integrated features including post processed kinematic (PPK) capabilities, an embedded global shutter camera, intuitive analytics and data reporting tools, and can connect with either wireless or cellular 3G communications. The hardware aspect of the UX11 is innovative, but you can also see there’s a software component to everything that Delair does.
Of the industries that Delair has served, which one have you observed to move the fastest in integrating drone technology?
The fastest and most mature is definitely the geospatial surveying and mapping industry. That’s been the fastest because the analytics and the data processing is pretty simple and straightforward. This market is mature and the drone is now a very common tool for surveyors.
On the other hand, markets like utilities, rail inspection, oil and gas inspection, agriculture and forestry—they all often require BVLOS permissions, so they’ve been slower to adapt because of that. They also require advanced technologies in order to detect anomalies on aerial images. In these markets, it’s about detecting very specific things—rust on a pipeline, a tree that is too close to a power line, a broken insulator. All of those things would require some advanced analytics and even artificial intelligence (AI), which is still being developed.
Regulation and costs of operation have been slowing down the adaption of drone technology to the market. So, in addition to the regulatory issues, we still need to push the technology forward to be able to really scale the adoption of drone technology, and make it easier and more efficient to get actionable insights.
Delair was recently selected as a technology pioneer by the World Economic Forum. They described Delair as having potential to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In your eyes, how have drones revolutionized multiple industries?
Drones are a tool to digitize the real world. We see our technology and our solutions as a way for our customers to create a digital twin of the infrastructure of their assets, of their construction sites, of their crops, to work on this digital plane.
Drones provide a completely different approach. Rather than sending members of a team into a remote location, each taking their own observations in a decentralized way, with drones we can concentrate everything on a cloud platform. All the 3D models, all the digital twins of the assets are accessible to those people who will run analytics from their office, from their desk, through the cloud on the remote location sites.
Can you further explain digital twins for those unfamiliar with the term?
Creating a digital twin is the first step of everything we do with the drone. The first step before the analytics and everything would be to create a digital copy of an asset, a construction site or field, for example, and then you would work on this model. With this digital twin you can launch analytics and detect some specific fault or other specific information critical to a business operation and share with your colleagues and business partners.
Do you have any predictions for drone industry development over the next five years?
Within the next five years there’s no question that the technology will be more sophisticated than what we have today. AI, as I mentioned, and more sophisticated analytics will significantly change how we can benefit from drones. Software will become much more of a driver than the hardware. The other big area for growth is in the realm of BVLOS operations. When that opens up in the U.S., the market will expand significantly.
What does Delair want to achieve by 2020?
On the software side, we are expecting exponential growth and a massive improvement in how we address the requirements of all the industries we serve. The hardware business is now pretty mature and will continue to grow.
Business-wise, we expect continued growth. We are looking to expand our dealership network within the East Coast of the U.S. There are also some distribution gaps we want to fill in countries in Africa and Asia. It’s our objective to have more distributors around the whole world in the next three years.
This article was sponsored by Delair.
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