Identified Technologies: Aerial drones – 2.0 in real-time mapping and data gathering

Dick Zhang, CEO Identified Technology

To kick-start our weekly interview feature we are talking today to Dick Zhang, the CEO of Identified Technologies. The company was recently shortlisted in the prestigious Ben Franklin Shale Innovation Awards for their Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and docking system. These drones (quadra-rotor robotic craft) provide high-res optical, infrared, and gas-sniffing data, while being totally independent and self-sufficient – they can be deployed over a site and they will gather data, autonomously swap or charge batteries, and upload the data to the cloud for easy remote access.

Monica Thomas (Shale Gas International): Your company’s aerial drones were shortlisted in the most recent round of Shale Innovation Awards. Can you tell us what the real-life applications of these drones are?

Dick Zhang (CEO, Identified Technologies): The short story is that we’re helping these oil and gas and construction jobsites to work smarter and work faster. We do it via real-time 2D and 3D maps.

Raw data is captured by the drone flying over the area, in the form of GPS and geospatial files along with photos, and then we have our own processing equipment where we put all that raw data through and create the sort of contour-lined volumetric analysis, linear analysis, and these really, really granular 3D models of these job sites.

MT: So that would be a part of the prospecting phase – am I correct in thinking that?

DZ: Yes, that’s right. That would be a part of a prospecting phase on a new compressor site or a new processing site. It’s also part of a construction build out of that new site as well.

With all that activity happening on these sites, there’s no way for these jobsite managers to accurately track what’s going on and make real-time decisions – because they’re using outdated data. So right now we’re primarily useful in these phases in that we deliver this real-time mapping information via a drone that can fly itself, capture data, and upload that data for processing by itself, and it can also land and swap its own batteries – literally on the jobsite. It can do all that by itself.

This is exciting stuff, and we primarily work with a lot of the large gas construction guys, here in PA, Virginia, and Ohio, and we’re starting to see a lot of pull down in Dakota and Texas, and even – you know – Africa.

MT: Say, if an upstream company wanted to employ your services, would it be the case of buying one of those units, or is it that you provide the full solution including the software and everything that is required?

DZ: The big differentiator for us, actually, is that a lot of what’s on the market today for these mapping solutions is very expensive. You’re going to spent anywhere from 40 to 140 thousand dollars, buying one of these things. And then you need to spend weeks and months training some guy; you’ve got the get insurance, you’ve got to get extra hardware, because these things will inevitably break.

So that’s what it looks like today. We’re a turn-key, one-stop solution for mapping. When we engage with a new client, the only two things we ask them are: “give us a GoogleEarth file of your jobsite perimeter and tell us the highest crane on your jobsite”. And then we’ll take care of everything else. It’s literally one step: get this thing on site, hit a button and go. And it will take care of everything by itself.

So that’s a big differentiator, and then we also, instead of trying to sell the systems, we lease the hardware, the software and the data. Our clients can lease all that for  one monthly price, you know, instead of having to spend a 100,000 dollars for a piece of equipment.

Identified Technologies - Drone Benefits

MT: This obviously is an innovative solution, so what would be the ‘old school’ of doing the same job?

DZ: The old school version is “I’m going to send some guy out there, we’re either going to use satellite data or we’re going to use the survey polls”. So it’s a tripod with the GPS and they’re going to walk around, they’re going to find a point and survey it for five minutes and move to the next point, and so on.

So it’s very dangerous, very laborious, very slow – and not very granular information. That’s what it looks like traditionally. With us we’re doing this two hundred times faster, sixty times more frequently, and we’re doing it ten thousand times more granular and more accurate than any thing that these guys have access to today. It’s a completely revolutionary way to acquire a map of these jobsites.

MT: In terms of time, what would be the saving?

DZ: Traditionally, the time to get results, you’re looking at anywhere between two weeks to two months. We deliver results in two hours.

MT: That’s quite amazing. In that case that is absolutely a game-changer. So what stage are you at in terms of the adoption of the technology?

DZ: We’ve been working with clients for a year now, and a lot of the last year was spent answering some of the finer details and the finer questions, in terms of how we can help these guys.

We went through the early stages of working with those early adopters, but now we are on the uptake to get to being commonplace on a lot of these jobsites.

We’re seeing a really excellent momentum in getting there. I think a lot of it is just it takes time and trust from our customers and the delivery on our part to make this all happen. Hopefully we will keep seeing this momentum, keep seeing this activity, and over the next year we’ll become a commonplace tool to help these companies.