Houston drone company sees rising need for automation within the energy industry and beyond
For years, Ran Krauss has watched the drone and automation industry be overhyped and misunderstood. But due to a myriad of causes — a global pandemic that's forced workers to stay home, a oil glut that's caused energy company layoffs, and years of work pushing through new regulation — it's finally time, Kauss believes, for drone technology to take-off.
Krauss has worked in the drone industry for years and, in 2014, co-founded Airobotics, a full-service drone company, with Meir Kliner. Between COVID-19 and an oversupply of oil, energy companies, which make up most of Airobotics clients, are seeing how important automation and drone technology is.
"Everyone watched Netflix before, but the pandemic increased demand," Krauss tells InnovationMap. "For us, our ability to provide remote monitoring applications was always something of value, but obviously in times like this when staff can't get into a site, there's more significance."
The COVID-19 crisis, Krauss explains, has perhaps sped up energy companies' plans to integrate this type of technology.
"One of the effects of the pandemic is reconsidering the timeline and deployment of robotics as a whole to deal with future threats like this," he says. "The world is going to think differently about automation, robotics, and drones."
Krauss saw an opportunity for drone technology within industrial business, but wanted to take it a step further with automation. That's how he came up with the idea for a drone in a box — an idea that became Airobotics. The company's technology operates as a one-stop shop for companies looking for drone and automation technology.
Airobotics's technology includes a docking station that even has a robotic arm to replace batteries in the drone. Photo courtesy of Airobotics
The Airobotics device comes complete with a docking station that even has an automated arm to replace batteries, for instance, so limited human interaction is needed. Airobotics works with its clients to customize data collection needs, and then manages the operations as a service provider.
"As an operator, we figured out that we needed to create an automated system — similar to an autonomous car — for safety, productivity, and cost effectiveness. That's why we started a robotics company," he says.
While Airobotics — which has clients worldwide — has offices in the United States, Israel, and Singapore, Texas is a focus for the company, Krauss says.
The company's technology has seen historic approval from regulators in each of the countries it operates in. Specifically, Krauss praises what the Federal Aviation Administration is doing to advance drone technology regulation, and the department recognizes Airobotics as subject matter experts.
"We're working very closely with the FAA, which has identified us as a partner to help them create the right environment for drones to be integrated into the airspace," Krauss says. "You can't ignore new technologies but just saying, 'OK, this thing [isn't allowed to] fly.' There has to be the right balance of public safety and encouraging new technologies to take place."
It's not only industry and regulatory support Airobotic has seen. The company has gone through quite a few funding rounds and raised over $110 million.
"Our investors have identified the situation and the market potential our company has over anybody else," Krauss says. "We're the trailblazers, which comes at a cost — it's much easier to follow than to lead. But, we're happy to do so."
Perhaps, one of the biggest challenges for the company and the industry is educating potential clients. The word "drone" is used to describe everything from a remote-controlled device with a camera on it that's just a few hundred dollars online to Airobotics's Optimus device, which is made up of thousands of parts.
"There is definitely a constant need for market education in this sector — always has been the case," Krauss says.
For Krauss, he's seen drone technology go through this "hype phase," and he sees a bright future for what drone and automation capabilities are coming.
"I think we're going to see a resurgence in this industry in the coming years — with applications in the real world with real value generation, not just hype and science fiction," he says.
One industry that's ripe for drone technology disruption — smart cities innovation. Krauss says he hopes Houston is a city that looks to utilize the tech.
"I think the digitization of the urban environment is going to be the next sector where we're going see drones create a lot of value," he says.
Airobotics has clients within the industrial sector. Photo courtesy of Airobotics