Today, Uber announced that it would soon begin testing drone delivery on its Uber Eats platform in San Diego. Last week, Amazon executive Jeff Wilke revealed the company’s new Prime Air drone design, saying the company projects “delivering packages via drone to customers within months.”
And it’s not just tech companies: delivery mainstay UPS made headlines this year when they began testing unmanned drones to deliver blood samples quickly between hospitals.
The Federal Aviation Administration projects that the number of commercial drones in the U.S. could triple by 2023. Along with this technology growth will come an entirely new human support system of manufacturers, software providers, and of course, pilots.
Bronwyn Morgan wants to accelerate that pipeline. An Atlanta-based business and branding strategist with a speciality in startups, Morgan has long been fascinated by the skies.
“When I was a little girl I wanted to be a fighter pilot and an astronaut,” Morgan tells Hypepotamus. “I was applying to military academies when I learned that [due to a health condition] I couldn’t fly.”
“I thought, if I couldn’t fly a fighter jet, what was the point?”
After pursuing a career in the corporate and academic world, Morgan eventually discovered the world of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as drones. She became certified as a small UAS pilot and began testing the skies.
In 2017, Morgan formed Wings Drones Consulting, a firm that guides companies looking to implement drone operations. Though growing, the industry is still tough to navigate, with rapidly-changing technology, best practices, and regulatory requirements.
Last year, Morgan began working on the other side of the drone equation: building up the pipeline of talent to feed this expanding industry. She established Airversity Drone Pilot Academy, a training school which covers the necessary prep for the FAA certification test as well as actual drone flight training.
The Academy held its first class this year and is already live in nine cities across the U.S. Their goal for 2019 is to train 500-1000 new pilots, including members of law enforcement who can use drones to be more efficient at their jobs.
The last piece of the puzzle, says Morgan, is connecting these new pilots to the companies who need their services. To that end, she has established one more startup: on-demand work company Xeo Air.
The Xeo platform connects B2B clients looking to deploy drones with certified pilots qualified to complete their mission. Morgan calls it a job platform for the “aerial gig economy.”
Xeo pilots can collect a range of data to serve each client’s needs, including photography, video, thermography, hyperspectral and multispectral GIS data, LIDAR and more.
“Just like Uber is managing your ride, we are managing your mission,” says Morgan.
For example, a construction company might need a survey of a new piece of land they plan to start building on. An energy company could conduct an environmental assessment of a potential drilling spot. But most of these companies do not have a drone pilot team in-house.
Morgan says they can serve customers in the telecom, insurance, catastrophic response, oil and gas, and civil infrastructure industries.
Xeo is already flying missions for several clients, including Airbus Aerial, a division of the aerospace giant.
Currently, they pass along the data collected and the client analyzes it themselves, but Morgan says that soon, a data visualization and analytics platform will be built into Xeo.
“We’re looking for the niche that makes us special, and that really is those data capabilities,” she says. Morgan projects that Xeo pilots will fly about 2,000 missions this year.
Though in talks with aerospace-focused angel and VC investors, Morgan has self-financed all three businesses to-date. For now, she’s heads down on getting more pilots and clients into the skies.