Former Clearwater resident joins high tech start-up

Aaren Ritchie-Bonar has joined the team as head of Internal Affairs

A drone’s-eye view of Richard Sullivan

A drone’s-eye view of Richard Sullivan

Adam Williams – Kamloops This Week

Maybe that drone you’ve seen flying over Kamloops isn’t all that nefarious after all.

A quartet of Kamloops entrepreneurs is behind a startup called Hummingbird Drones, which is using the unmanned devices, as well as proprietary software, in engineering, natural resource and environmental applications across the province.

The brainchild of CEO Robert Atwood and CFO Richard Sullivan — who were working for the wildfire-management branch of the Ministry of Forests Land and Natural Resource Operations when the idea struck them — Hummingbird Drones is now closing in on its first contracts.

“Robert and Richard started it up just as a hobby,” said chief technology officer and head of software development Jay Bell, who joined the group over Christmas.

“They thought, ‘Oh, this is a great application for this.’

“So, they started talking to the wildfire branch.”

Former Clearwater resident Aaren Ritchie-Bonar later joined the team as head of Internal Affairs.

After a wildfire has been extinguished in B.C., the ministry hires a helicopter and pilot to thermally image the area, ensuring there are no smouldering areas that could reignite the blaze.

Hummingbird Drones is pitching itself as an alternative to what Bell said is a costly endeavour.

He said the company would come at a huge cost savings to the province — there are no fuel costs associated with the drones and a pilot isn’t needed.

The company simply programs GPS waypoints into the drone, telling it where to image, and its software interprets the data. Both the flying and imaging are entirely automated.

“It’s not just cost,” Bell said.

“It’s the ability to get more effective data, reliable data.

“Drones can fly closer, programs can automatically detect stuff for us. It’s just diminishing human error.”

Bell said the group has a number of other applications in the works, but the future of Hummingbird Drones will depend on the company’s ability to grow.

Today, it has a single quadcopter at its disposal — valued at $4,000 — which has a flight time of 15 minutes and can cover a couple of kilometres at a time.

The group is looking to invest in a second drone — worth about $18,000 — that would open up doors for the foursome, boasting 45 minutes of flight time and a range of more than 10 kilometres.

“I think, optimistically, we can be profitable by the end of the year,” Bell said.

 

“That all depends on what contracts we get, as we just started talking to companies. A few of them are looking very, very positive.”