senseFly Interview – Jean-Thomas Célette, Managing Director
Jean-Thomas Célette, Managing Director at senseFly provides his insight and vision for this high flying drone mapping company.
- For a bit of perspective, can you provide a couple of short paragraphs on your education and training and how that lead to your involvement with drone technology? Please include timeframes.
I was introduced to the world of surveying when I joined senseFly in 2016. Prior to joining senseFly, I was a director and member of the management team at PwC Strategy &’s Zurich office, where I helped large technology companies launch new businesses, develop sustainable growth strategies and optimize their processes. I also advised large industrial companies and governments on technology and digital strategy. I have a master’s degree in Computer Science and obtained my MBA from INSEAD. As senseFly’s Managing Director, I’m responsible for product roadmaps and oversee the company’s R&D, customer experience and operational functions.
- Can you provide an overview of the history of senseFly? Why did you start the company? What were some of the early challenges? Was it an instant success? What is it like today?
senseFly was founded in 2009 as a spin-off of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne’s (it’s known in Switzerland as EPFL) Laboratory of Intelligent Systems. The company’s co-founders had varying backgrounds in robotics, physics, aviation and surveying. Together they developed an autonomous flying platform, which is now the industry’s leading fixed-wing drone solution. In 2010, they brought senseFly’s first product to market and it immediately became apparent to professionals across geospatial disciplines that drones could help them work safer and more efficiently than they could with traditional instruments alone.
- How does your technology compare to the other UAV vendors? Why do you think senseFly is the technology leader?
The senseFly eBee is the world’s leading commercial fixed-wing solution and today represents more than 50 percent of registered fixed-wing drones. senseFly drones have always been light; in fact, they’re light weight (around 1kg) has allowed senseFly drones to fly successfully in many environments, including Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) and even in operations over people in countries across the world. The eBee is also the most used mapping drone and has been a pioneer of drone mapping since 2010. It is reliable and robust—with a proven track record of results that are trusted by surveyors and mapping professionals around the world. Our eMotion flight planning software is also recognized as the leading professional flight-planning software, allowing the eBee to perform missions in complex and challenging environments autonomously.
- What are the key markets and products for senseFly today and over the next couple of years?
With more surveying and mapping professionals using UAV technology than ever before, we anticipate that the demand for precision, accuracy and efficiency in end-to-end drone solutions will continue to grow. Our latest model, the eBee X, is a major step forward for mapping technology and the geospatial market. We are excited to be at the vanguard of innovation and set new standards for our customers and the industry alike.
The mapping drone industry has grown significantly over the last few years, with North America one of the most established markets. Innovation has played a key role in this growth, with professionals in diverse sectors demanding more advanced and tailored solutions to meet their unique challenges. Our team has invested in providing these industry-specific tools, using our insights from time in the field and feedback from our customers to inform product enhancements and spearhead new developments.
- What do you believe is the realistic timeline for BVLOS?
Regulations are evolving rapidly, especially in North America. At senseFly, we work closely with regulators across the globe, sharing data and insights to help inform legislation and ensure safety remains a top priority for drone providers and operators. In the last year, we’ve been a part of two ground breaking BVLOS projects.
With IN-FLIGHT Data, senseFly drones were integral in carrying out North America’s first urban BVLOS UAS project in a major city. The project, located in and around the city of Calgary, Alberta, was commissioned to collect mapping data to support the development of a new graveyard site, the city’s first new cemetery since 1940. The mapping of the area, completed using a senseFly eBee Plus fixed-wing drone, saw IN-FLIGHT Data’s team conduct a total of 414 km (257 mi) BVLOS operations at an average distance of 2.35 km (1.46 mi) from the pilot.
State Farm Insurance, which flies an eBee Classic drone, was also granted the first national waiver to any company in the U.S. by the FAA, allowing them to conduct drone operations over people and BVLOS flights through November 2022. This is a monumental achievement, considering previous waivers were limited to short timeframes and specific to areas impacted by hurricanes.
- Can you provide any sneak peeks into the senseFly product roadmap?
senseFly just released the eBee X in September of last year. With the eBee X, we have once more pushed the boundaries of what is possible with a lightweight drone. Up to 90-minute flight time and the capability to map 500 hectares in a single flight speak for themselves. Additionally, we have released new payloads such as the senseFly S.O.D.A. 3D, which allows you to capture vertical surfaces, the senseFly Aeria X which fits a high- quality APS-C sensor to a light form factor and the Duet T, which uniquely combines thermal and RGB imagery in an ultra-lightweight sensor.
- If you look into your crystal ball what will senseFly be like in a couple of years down the road? How many employees will you have? Are you looking at acquisitions? How do you want to grow the company?
senseFly continues to grow and we expect more organic growth from our new systems, payloads and innovation in end-to-end drone solutions. Despite some setbacks for the commercial drone industry last year, with some large players going out of business, senseFly continues to cement its position as the leader in the fixed-wing market by being the go-to drone solution that professionals turn to. In turn, we’ll continue to focus our efforts in innovation and making their jobs easier.
We anticipate that drone adoption will continue to increase on an almost daily basis. As the tangible benefits, including improved accuracy, safety and cost-effectiveness, become more well known. We expect that more and more industries will turn to senseFly and our systems to capitalize on their efficiency and ease-of-use.
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