When the 2018 Fundica Roadshow kicks off in Montreal on Tuesday, one presenter will be a one-year-old New Brunswick company that is quickly making a name for itself for safety standards in the drone industry.
Founded by Josh Ogden of Rothesay, NB, and Josh Boudreau of Ottawa, AVSS is developing hardware and software to improve the safety of autonomous aircraft. The company’s main product so far is the Connected Recovery System, which is like a black box for drones connected to a parachute, which can deploy if the system senses trouble. AVSS is already working with a major Canadian drone operator, which has a fleet of several hundred drones across the country.
“This company started with the question of what happens when a UAV drone crashes,” said CEO Josh Ogden in an interview, using the trade name for an Unmanned Ariel Vehicle. “We’re putting all these devices in the air, but there are no safety standards yet. … The industry is moving so fast that regulators are having trouble keeping up with performance standards.”
Pitching at the Fundica Roadshow is just the latest badge of honour for a company that got going only a year ago. Ogden was best known in the New Brunswick startup community as one of the founders of Castaway Golf, the company that won the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s Breakthru competition in 2015. He moved on from Castaway and teamed up with Boudreau. They spent “two years looking at various ideas with Steve Blank methodology” before deciding that drone safety was the market to be in.
It’s no secret that the use of drones is growing strongly, but what the two Joshes discovered is that the industry and its regulators have had trouble developing standards for safety, tracking and other issues. It's a problem. The Ontario Provincial Police were using a $130,000 drone in a search and rescue operation last year when it vanished, never to be seen again. Six people in Japan were recently hospitalized when a drone crashed in a crowded area.
AVSS’s Connected Recovery System uses data to sense when a drone is having problems and deploys a parachute if the machine is going down. The founders are working on new products to improve safety and tracking of the machines, and want to become an original equipment manufacturer that will supply drone makers. They hope for a full launch in the fourth quarter of 2018. The company now employs the two co-founders, who are aided by contractors and advisers. It plans to raise full-time staffing to 12 by year-end.
The plan is gaining attention. In January, AVSS partnered with the Institute of Drone Technology in Australia to design, build and distribute the system.
“This is a key development in the drone technology space,” said Institute CEO Joel Spence in a statement. “For governments, the safety system gives comfort against the inevitability of mechanical failure in built-up areas. [And] the ability to independently verify the locations of drones opens up a huge number of possibilities for governments being able to safely and effectively manage their airspace.”
Earlier this year, AVSS closed a small funding round with local angels in New Brunswick. The company also participated late last year in the Investment Opportunities Program offered by Springboard Atlantic and Invest Atlantic. The program took Atlantic Canadian companies to Toronto to meet investors, and Ogden said some Toronto investors have committed to the next funding round, which it hopes to close soon.
[Editor's note: I boobed last Thursday in writing that BluelLight Analytics of Halifax is the only Atlantic Canadian competitor in Fundica this year. AVSS, a new company I wasn’t familiar with, was also on the list. The organizers on Friday also added ProcedureFlow of Saint John, which we’ll profile later in the week.]