GRAND FORKS, N.D. — In 2015, two Fargo, N.D.-based companies realized that their combined efforts could yield a drone control and safety application that they hoped would make flying the aircraft more effective, easier and safer.
Two years later, Botlink CEO Terri Zimmerman and Chief Strategy Officer Alex Kube say the product they have can do just that in sectors where drones can be integrated into business operations such as engineering, construction and agriculture.
The platform is the product of two companies, Packet Digital and Botlink — formerly known as Aerobotic Innovations — which combined efforts to refine and expand the product created by the latter.
Earlier this month at a Drone Biz luncheon held in Grand Forks, Zimmerman and Kube introduced the company and its product to a group of drone entrepreneurs, local community leaders and others interested in the emerging drone industry.
At its core, Botlink connects the physical drone and the data it collects to a cloud sever where the data is processed and stored then accessed by clients for use in their own industry-specific software platforms.
“We want to act as a pipeline that makes it as easy as possible to get the data that you need from the drone to the tools that you’re already using,” Kube said. “If you’re someone in agriculture or if you’re someone in construction, you don’t want to learn an entire other software system just to use drones for your business.
“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, we want to put the drone data into the wheel that you already have.”
The company allows customers to purchase Botlink alone or in a bundle that includes the platform and a drone such as DJI Phantom. From there, customers can utilize features such as flight planning, automated flying and data analysis on a computer or the platform’s mobile app.
“We focus on creating an operation platform in the unmanned space enabling drone manufacturers and users to get actionable data,” Zimmerman said. “We provide command and control as well as data processing — capturing that data and processing it through the cloud.”
According to Kube, Botlink takes care of the complicated parts of the data collection process. That can include flying the drone itself, which he said makes flights safer, repeatable and more time efficient.
“At the end of the day, I think the future of drones is greater autonomy and greater freedom with where you can use these drones,” he said.
For her work in the unmanned aircraft systems industry, Zimmerman also was tapped to head the corporate advisory board for the University of North Dakota’s recently announced Institute of Unmanned and Autonomous Research.
The institute seeks to attract top researchers from around the world and use advancements in the unmanned industry to drive economic development within the state of North Dakota.
Zimmerman, a UND alumna, said the institute will research applications for small and large drones in a variety of industries, including construction, agriculture, energy and infrastructure and will involve partnerships with companies representing those sectors and well as drone-related companies.
“The concept is there has been a tremendous amount of knowledge and expertise developed in North Dakota and there’s an opportunity to really bring those resources together and leverage them to create more research, more development and business creation, and increase the workforce around unmanned aircraft,” she said.
Drone Biz is held at noon every second Thursday of the month at rotating locations in Grand Forks.