Drones can do more than spy or drop bombs.
Just ask Naples entrepreneur Stephen Myers. He sold his information technology services firm InfiNetwork last year to focus on this emerging industry.
“This is like the invention of the Internet,” says Myers, whose new Naples-based company is called Angel Eyes UAV.
For the record, Myers isn't enamored with the word “drone” because of its negative connotations. The proper name is “unmanned aerial vehicle,” or UAV for short.
For example, drones can be equipped with sensors and cameras to detect rotting vegetables in farm fields, identify broken power-transmission lines or relay video of a burning building from the air to firefighters on the ground. Amazon.com recently made big news when it said it was researching the use of drones to deliver packages.
Myers is no stranger to identifying new technology trends. When he started InfiNetwork in 1987, he was among the first to offer information technology services for businesses in Naples. It was at the dawn of personal computers, and Myers built InfiNetwork to help business clients buy the hardware and software and make it all work together. At its peak, the company had 15 employees and more than 100 customers, Myers says.
But Myers, 48, felt the urge to start a brand new venture after discovering the drone industry. “I'm not someone who maintains the status quo,” he chuckles.
Now, Myers envisions building the same kind of company with drone technology. “It's the exact same business model,” Myers says. “I'm enamored with the solution. I'm a problem solver; that's what I like.”
Myers says he can help companies select a drone from any of the 700 manufacturers around the world that make them today and pick the right software to run it. He can teach users how to operate them or manage that for them.
The challenge in the U.S. is that government regulations now prohibit anyone flying drones for profit, though the Federal Aviation Administration does grant waivers. “The U.S. isn't leading the industry,” says Myers, who notes that the FAA is crafting rules now on the use of drones.
So Myers plans to sell drones to individuals domestically and provide business services overseas. Depending on the size and capabilities, a drone might cost $30,000 to $50,000 and camera sensors range from $5,000 to $500,000, he says.
For the services part of the business, Myers plans to charge by the project. For example, he might charge an agriculture company 50% of the boost in crop yields attributable to drone technology.
The company and the industry are both in their infancies, but Myers says the undisclosed proceeds from the sale of InfiNetwork will allow him the time to build the business. Myers says he plans to announce several deals for Angel Eyes later this year.
Myers, who is currently enrolled in a master's degree program at Unmanned Vehicle University in Arizona, also has a pilot's license. That will come in handy if rules mandate such a license for all drone operators.
Despite the regulatory obstacles today, Myers says establishing Angel Eyes early will give him a head start when the FAA approves drones for commercial purposes. “A lot of people are waiting on the sidelines,” he says. But, he says, “technology is not going to wait for the FAA.”