Maximilian Boosfeld on Wingtra VTOL UAS
Wingtra is the world’s leading producer of vertical take-off and landing – VTOL drones.
The Early Years
Wingtra Founder and CEO Maximilian Boosfeld was studying Mechanical Engineering at one of the top science schools in the world, ETH Zurich. (As evidence of the claim, Albert Einstein graduated from the same university.) During the studies he met many truly smart people. In 2011, with one of them — Elias Kleimann, they established their first business — an alternative outdoor cafe in the heart of Zurich. Max noted, “The project went really well. This cafe still exists and we still go there with the Wingtra team to have brunch or just a coffee.”
The venture with Elias was not going to be the last. In 2013 Max and Elias made acquaintances with Basil Weibel and Sebastian Verling, who were both working on a super ambitious drone project — a VTOL tailsitter — at one of the most advanced robotics labs (this was also at ETH Zurich). They all shared similar ideas about the future and economy and decided to build a drone company from scratch. “The technology we pursued appeared to be truly revolutionary — after 2 years since its official launch in 2016, Wingtra has become a world leader in the VTOL market,” Max commented.
Wingtra’ s Roots
(Editor’s Note – The following is in Max’s words)
Wingtra started as an ambitious research project called Pacflyer. Basil Weibel, our current CRO (Chief Revenue Officer), and Sebastian Verling, now senior software engineer, were working on it at Prof. Dr. Roland Siegwart’s Autonomous Systems Lab at ETH Zurich. The aim of their project was to build a new generation drone that would overcome limitations seen in current drone solutions.
Basil and Sebastian along with Elias Kleimann and myself shared an idea of making a global, positive impact. Therefore, when the initial research was over, we decided to join forces and make the idea come alive.
We wanted our drone to carry the most valuable goods on Earth, and then we realized that aerial data has the best ratio of value per weight. This epiphany was the motivation behind assembling the team and creating Wingtra.
We certainly consider Wingtra a success. After all, we managed to overachieve the revenue targets of 2017, the same trend followed to the first quarters of the year 2018. The key markets that we’re focusing on are surveying and mining. Besides this, we also have use cases in precision agriculture, environmental research and more.
Wingtra has grown to become an international company with distribution partners in all the continents (except Antarctica). Our customers have completed more than 1,000 flights and the interest in the industry is continuing to increase at a rapid pace.
As well, I see us on track to fulfill our very early goal of delivering high accuracy data — robustly and efficiently. Now our drone WingtraOne collects thousands of gigabytes of aerial data when used by mapping professionals in applications that range from surveying and mining to wildlife monitoring.
We see several other companies that are doing VTOL drones, however most of them are not in the same market (surveying and mapping) or are too premature. We can confidently say that right now we are the global leader in the VTOL drone market.
The VTOL design was imagined in many ways. We took the approach of making it as simple as possible. The underlying idea was that the more complicated to build, the more separate parts it involves, all the more it is prone to failure. We wanted to build a simple, but elegant design which would allow the drone to tilt from multi-rotor to a fixed wing mode. We achieved it! WingtraOne has only 4 moving parts — 2 rotors and 2 flaps. There’s less room for failure and it’s easier to maintain.
Regarding a patent, no, the WingtraOne design is not patented. We chose to keep our design as a trade secret. We do not wish to reveal all the “magic” behind our technology that we have worked so long for. Having a patent requires making some of the information public.
Wingtra is focusing on one product — the VTOL drone WingtraOne for professional mapping and surveying applications. We offer several configurations of the drone by combining different payloads and upgrades the WingtraOne can be used in different applications.
Our flagship offering is the WingtraOne, plus Sony RX1RII and PPK. This bundle enables customers to reach the highest quality results in surveying accuracy down to 1 cm (0.4 in), resolution even below 1 cm (0.4 in) and large coverage at the same time.
We offer a professional entry bundle for surveying – WingtraOne plus Sony QX1. Also, WingtraOne can be used in precision agriculture when combined with the multispectral camera from MicaSense, the RedEdge-M.
Each customer can customize their drone with a payload or payloads of choice (one WingtraOne drone can be used with different payloads due to their modularity). They can also choose whether or not to upgrade to PPK, purchase an additional hard case or acquire a Pix4D software license. We are partnered with Pix4D who we believe are offering a great software solution that is matched to what the industry needs.
Regarding the use of lidar sensors, they are still a little too heavy for our drone to carry. We’re hoping that soon the lidar sensor producers will come up with a more lightweight solution. In the meantime, we’ll be able to evaluate the market need. We do get asked about lidar sensors, but so far photogrammetry seems to be solving most of our customer’s use cases, thus we do not feel desperate to upgrade.
Looking into the Future
The company is exploring the momentum of the freshly launched WingtraOne PPK. We are working on scaling our operations in order to fulfill the market demand for this new product.
As we look into the future, the Wingtra team expects WingtraOne to become the most desired drone in surveying and mapping applications. Our unique VTOL technology has helped us establish a firm foundation in the market, leading us to believe that WingtraOne will generally replace fixed-wings in large coverage mapping missions in the near future.
We’re encountering a rapid scaling process at the moment, thus the team is also growing at a fast pace. Trying to foresee the future is a little bold at this point of time, but I would not be surprised if there would be more than a 100 people working at Wingtra in the following years.
To find more information about Wingtra, please visit www.wingtra.com
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