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Patrick Walsh, Co-Founder and CEO of EagleHawk is the interviewee in the latest episode of the Smarter Business Podcast. In this episode, Patrick discusses his journey of how he started his own company, advances in drone technology, and how taking advantage of resources can push your business further.
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(soft upbeat music) - Welcome to this episode of the Smarter Business Podcast. This is Business Advice with a Video Bent. What we like to do on this podcast is talk to business leaders who are using video in interesting ways. This month's episode, we have Patrick Walsh of EagleHawk. And we're gonna talk a little bit about some of the interesting things that they do, both with tech and with video. So, Patrick, it's great to have you. - Thank you Neil, excited to be here, appreciate the opportunity to talk to you. - Yeah, yeah. And I appreciate you coming on and it's... I think this will be a really interesting episode, right? Because some of what we are tying this episode to is our monthly theme on the creator, Video Creator Network, which is "Video Success." And you all are doing video in a very different way than a lot of our members and, you know, kind of the, the way that people traditionally think about it. So first things first, can you give us, you know, go ahead and introduce EagleHawk. What does the company do and kinda, you know, how did it all get started? - Yeah, so EagleHawk, we're a drone services and technology company, and we'd like to say we're providing facilities technology for outside the building. And so the company started around doing large scale facilities, questions, leveraging drones and sensors, like high resolution cameras and thermal cameras. Detect facilities issues on the outside of the building, whether it's the building itself, solar system, or the steam system on campus. And do it in a way that was safer, faster, and more affordable than in the past. Now we've been at it for almost five years now. And yeah, it's been exciting to see how this drone technology is really helping our customers understand their facility better. - Yeah. Excellent. And it's a very different take. I feel like than what a lot of people think of when they think drone, you know, services. Right? I always, I've got my FAA 107 license to, to fly and, you know, we'll shoot for video and, and stuff with that type of setup, but you all are doing, yeah, a lot more of the facility oriented services. So I guess, what kind of sent you in that direction? How did you get started saying this is the type of business that I want to run? - Yeah, no, it's an interesting question. So, you know, my background, I'm a aerospace mechanical engineer. I went to, you know, grew up here in Buffalo. I went to RIT where I got my, my undergrad master's in engineering and I got hired by Lockheed Martin defense firm right out of school. And spent almost 10 years in Orlando, Florida working in their plant down there that specialized in thermal imaging technology for military aircraft. Back in 2016, that's when the drone industry was really just coming online. The FAA had released kind of the commercial regulations for the use of drones. And, you know, they came out with the seven processes, so you could become a certified pilot. And so at that time, my wife and I were looking to get back to Buffalo with a young family at the time and we wanted to get back home. And so I saw the drone industry as an opportunity to leverage my background and engineering and my passion for aerospace and drone technology. And then my background with thermal imaging from Lockheed to say, you know, how could I take that skillset and use drones to do inspections in a way that was unique? And so moved back here, I got connected with Will, who's my co-founder, and Will has a similar story. He saw drones coming online. He was more of a GIS and mapping type guy. And we got connected through a mutual contact and we decided we'd kinda, you know, do it together. You know, we got lucky. Our first big break was we got hired by the University of Buffalo to inspect all the buildings across three campuses. We did a hundred buildings over two days. We inspected them both with visual cameras and thermal cameras. And we found that a lion's share of the buildings had roof issues and they didn't know about it. We really helped them understand what was going on on campus and allowed them to kind of prioritize roof issues, you know, set better budgets, and really kind of manage their roofs in a much more proactive way. And that kind of opened our eyes to the bigger opportunity. And since then, we've worked with dozens of universities now across the country. We had Ivy league schools like Yale and Cornell and Dartmouth as customers now. So it's been pretty exciting to see how this technology is a tool as a way to collect information in a way that's, you know, as I said before, safer, faster, more affordable. It's really helping our customers get information on their assets in a way they never could before and actually use it to do their job more effectively. So it's been exciting to see. - That's awesome. And the, you know, thermal cameras and, you know, traditional video cameras as an inspection tool, I would suspect that the old way of doing it would have been to walk that same roof or get up in a cherry picker or something and do a similar thing. Is that how it would have been done prior to your service? - Yeah. I mean, in the past, most people didn't deal with roofing issues until water was coming in the building. - Well, there's that too. - So that would be about the worst time when you had a roof issue. And so, thermal imaging has been around for 20 years and it's been used to inspect roofs and other things. It's, the problem is, like you said, you got to get up on a roof, you know. Walk around it, so there's a danger aspect, and then you're limited by how fast you can walk. And so if you wanted to do a whole campus, it would take you weeks, you know. So it would just take forever. And so it just wasn't a practical way to inspect roofs and, you know, roofers will come out and, you know, a good experience roofer can identify issues, but what they can kind of see and feel, but again, they're limited by what they can see and feel, and then they're walking around as well. So you got that danger aspect and then just the campus scale. Right? It takes a lot to kind of walk a hundred roofs on campus. So drones are really enabled the way to get information, you know, you'll be able to understand the condition of these assets in a way that wasn't possible before drones. And so it's really kind of opened the eyes of facilities managers because now they're learning, drones are just not a toy my nephew got for Christmas, it's actually a tool that use in a way to get information on my building in a way that's unique. So, yeah, it's come a long way. And that technology is really advanced. The cameras these drones can carry now are pretty high resolution. It's pretty amazing the clarity you get. And the thermal cameras when they incorporated that, they use a pretty, it's not like a military grade thermal camera, but the resolution is good enough to do a decent inspection. - Excellent. And, the drones themselves, are you using a specific manufacturer? You building your own? Because like, I tried drone thing before the pre-packaged, say DGI Phantom, and you had to build your own. And I would imagine that with the level of complexity you're dealing with that it probably isn't off the shelf. Or am I wrong about that? - No, I mean, we do use off the shelf. I mean, we integrated one of the thermal cameras with the DGI drone in like 2016. So, you know, for us, we didn't want to reinvent the wheel when it came to the drone technology. We wanted to focus on using it as a tool to collect data and information in a way that was unique. And DGI, you know, the downside is that they're a Chinese company and there's a stigma to that. And I'm super concerned about privacy and all that, but they make some of the best drones in the world. And, and so they, you know, they're easy to use. They work well and they kinda got the latest in technology. So we started with DGI because they were really the only capable drone back in 2016 when we kind of got started. - Right. - Now there's many cases where we've customized our platforms or tailored it to certain jobs. And, you know, we're looking at other platforms because anytime we get into the government space, especially the federal government, you know, they don't like the Chinese made drones. And so we're looking for American alternatives. And finally, I think, you know, America is starting to catch up in some degree with our drone technology, which is great. And so we're not married to DGI long-term, but until now, I mean, their platforms have worked well for us and allows us to focus on collecting the data and not worry about building drones. - Yeah. That, that's what we always used for my purposes. DJI has definitely dominated the space. Alright. So we got a lot of background on EagleHawk. I always ask people, this is, you know, your standard networking elevator pitch stuff. If you had to boil down what EagleHawk does to one sentence, what would you say that you do? - Yeah. I mean, we provide facilities management technology for everything outside the building. Basically is that. I mean, if you look at facilities technology out there, most of it's focused on the inside of the building and that's because you can get information easily on the inside of the building. We've got systems manager, heating and cooling, your lighting systems, your workspace, your occupancy, but when it comes to the outside of the building, software tools just didn't make sense because getting information on the outside of the building was hard and dangerous and expensive. Drones are cheap. So we're going to get into it more later, but you know, we're developing a software platform now that we're releasing this summer that's going to take the data we collect and provide a tool for managers to use it in a way that they never could in the past. So, we're real excited about that. - I'll tell you what, that's a great segue, because my next thing in my notes was that you all have always had an eye on innovation, right? Like taking that next step, developing more technologies surrounding what you're doing. So that system is a great example. What are some of the other kind of interesting, I dunno, shots that you've taken at furthering the technology of what you can do with your drone set up? - Yeah. I mean, you know, the first piece was, the drone enabled a way to collect information in a way that couldn't be done in the past. Now there was a tool that can collect information on the outside of the building, that it made it safe and affordable. And going forward, you know, the key cost driver for us is the analysis. We can go out and collect information on how the building is. But it takes our team weeks to go through thousands of images, analyze them, identify issues, and then turn that into a deliverable that a client can then ingest and be able to use. And that's where all the cost is. And so we're investing in AI and machine learning to take those days, those weeks down to days and days down to hours. And so we can continue to drive down the cost of the inspection and it allows the customer, the end user, to do inspections on a more regular basis because the sooner you have the data, the more, the quicker you identify the problem, the cheaper and easier it is to deal with. So we want to make that process much more affordable and continue to drive down that cost. The next piece is using the data. We would go into a campus. We'd do a hundred buildings. We would find that 80% of them had issues. And we would find hundreds of issues, four or five hundred issues. And now a manager gotta go through, prioritize, and figure out who's going to go up there and who can double check and make sure it's a real issue. Who's going to repair it? Where am I going to get the budgeting for that? And so our software's providing that next step in the value chain, which is giving them an interface that's easy to use. It gives them like a God's eye view of the campus, shows them easy visual cues of where the problems are. Now they can dive into it, understand what it is, and get, you know, help in estimating, what it's going to cost to repair it, or fix that area, and then estimate the energy impact. I mean, energy is becoming a key part of what we do because when your roof system gets wet, the installation gets wet, and now all your heat and energy is going up to your roof. And so they get to understand what is the energy impact of this roof leak. It just gives them more ammo to then deal with the problem and go to their management and say, hey, this is why things are happening. So we're just kind of building off what the drone does best is providing great information. And then how do we make that information cheaper and easier to obtain? And how do we make it easier, more effective to use in their everyday work? So that's kind of the track we're on. - That's. Yeah. That's, that's awesome. And that's some great next steps, right? So you go from something that somebody had to do manually, walking a roof line - dangerous, expensive, would take forever to do to through technology you put up a drone and maybe eventually a few hours later, you have a whole mapped out prioritized system, right? Or a reporting system for the campus. That's incredible. That's, yeah, a long way. - Yeah. I mean, I predict in like five to 10 years at the most, and it's all driven by regulation mainly at this point, but you know, autonomous drones that are robots in the sky clocking information, I mean, it's coming at some point. It's gonna get here. - Yeah. - The biggest hurdle is where the FAA wants to be able to control the airspace and the air traffic control system designed for manned aircraft can't handle thousands of drones in the airspace and manage it safely. So they're working on what's called an unmanned traffic management system. So it's a technology based system where it's automatically tracking a lot of stuff and making sure that drones aren't flying into each other or flying into the buildings or hurting anyone. - Sure. - That's going to be the enabling technology that's going to allow drones to become autonomous at last. Once that happens, a lot of our customers, I predict, will have a drone in the box in the center of campus that's, you know, automatically and routinely going up and checking parking lot, students security. I mean, if it's got the right sensor technology on us, we'll be able to collect information on the roof, building facade, solar panels on campus. But somebody's going to need to be able to analyze that data and then put it into a tool that's easy to use. And that's, that's where we see the future. And that's really. - Yeah, yeah. That makes sense. That's an excellent path to go down. And yeah, that technology is very interesting, right? Because on that same college campus where they're going to have their own fleet of maintenance drones, you'll have the Amazon delivery drones flying through and dropping things in the, I don't know, dorm windows or something like that. Right? So it'll be an interesting time. And you know that because you bring up, I'm going to use this as another segue. We have actually shot with EagleHawk. It was a few years back and it was actually through a member of the vidwheel Creator Network and a kind of mutual acquaintance, Pete, Peter Smino. And we had to shoot for a client right next to the airport. They had a new building facility right next to the airport. And so Peter set us up with, Will, your partner there. And all three of us kind of came down there and shot the sequence. And it was really cool because Will is on his cell phone with the control tower at the airport. And we're waiting, you know, for traffic patterns. They're like, okay, after this Delta flight, you can go up for 15 minutes or that type of thing. And I guess, I don't know, that is a level of access that your typical, you know, video drone pilot doesn't have. How, like, I would imagine that level of access to, you know, airspace and the entities that control it is more important to your company. Do you end up having a lot of situations like that? Where you have to shoot right next to an airport or like really restricted airspace or anything like that to do your services? - Yeah. I mean, we fly in what's called controlled airspace all the time. So anywhere where it's airspace near a control, you know, control tower at airport, it's usually restricted. And so those are usually near populated areas where people have buildings and all that. So that's usually the places where we have to go and inspect or collected data or video. So a lot of it's just coming down to, you know, through experience, we've learned the process of managing. When the FAA is involved with it... Back when, do know when we did that, how long ago that was? - Yeah, it's at least two or so years ago. I remember it because like the apps were out there and I could request, you know, access to airspace in less restricted areas, but not like on the doorstep of the airport kind of thing. So it was probably three years ago, I would guess. - Yeah. The FAA is involved in the process. I mean, they came out with their LAANC, or Lanic, you know, as you can always pronounce it, kind of process where it's, they gridded out the airspace and it starts at zero at the runway and it goes to 50, 100, and 200 and 400 as you kind of branch away from it. And generally, if you're underneath that grid, you can kind of get an automatic approval based on your location, using those apps. In the areas where it's, you got to go higher than what they've kind of preset, whether it's the zero grid or 50, you got to get up to a 100 feet, then you kind of got to go through the DroneZone process and submit an authorization. You used to be able to do like area-wide. So we can go on and request airspace approval for all of Buffalo. Since they have, kind of, incorporated LAANC more, and now we're able to use LAANC for nighttime operations, as well, which is a key part of what we do thermal. They're kind of moving away from area-wide. I don't think they're doing them anymore. It's like, site-specific. And so, you basically submit through DroneZone. The biggest challenge is giving yourself enough lead time. Cause it usually takes weeks to get through all the red tape and you have the government on the other side and be able to intake what you're doing, figure it out, and then provide the authorization. So it's just a lot of planning and making sure that you got, you gave yourself time to work. We've been doing it for a while and so we've gotten pretty professional at it. - Yeah. Yeah. It's excellent. And it's an interesting, and you know, kind of, I don't know, to a layman feels complex, right? Like there's a lot to, to kind of sort out, so I appreciate you all helping us out on that shoot and making that right. - Yeah, it's like doing your taxes for the first time. - Right. Exactly. - The first time feels overwhelming. Right? But once you get through it. - Right. And then if you go through it. Nice. Well, and I will ask too, because it is "Success Through Video" month on the Creator Network. And I guess maybe I didn't really bring that up. So it is. The month of July here is "Success Through Video," that's our monthly theme. And that's some of what we're talking about with EagleHawk. Are there other interesting ways that you use video? You mentioned the thermal imaging, you mentioned inspection with video. I don't know, have you done other shoots, like the one we're talking about? Have you ever done anything, I guess a little out of the ordinary that involved using video with this tech? - Yeah. I mean, you know, we've done the traditional videography stuff with drones. We've gone out and done photo shoots for real estate property or whatever it is. And it's a smaller part of our business. You know, our niche has really been on the inspection side and that's where we're kind of grown, but there are opportunities where we will take a standard videography cut job from now and then. I'm sure there's guys in industry that do it very well, but I think we do it okay. And Will especially enjoys that, that type of work, but when it comes to unique stuff, you know, I remember when they, you remember when they, they tore down those houses on Homewood by force there. - Sure. Yep. - Well, we did a time-lapse video with the drone. They came out to be pretty neat. So we had the drone up in the air for two days straight as they were doing that demo and we kind of combined it all into a single, like time-lapse video. And it was pretty neat to kind of see all that change through kind of an aerial perspective. - Oh, that's very cool. How, well, did you have drone coming up and down all the time and it found the same coordinates and took another shot. - Yeah, we used two drones. So like we would, you know, we'd try to set it in the same GPS coordinate every time. It was a little windy at times. So we would move a little bit and we kind of had to work with that motion. So it wasn't like a perfect time-lapse, which is perfectly still. But like, you know, when we sped it up, it turned out okay. You know, we had one drone parked in one area and then we had another drone going around and actually moving with the work. - Very cool. - So it was kind of neat to bring those two perspectives. We also had a GoPro on the ground, like on top of one of our vehicles that stayed in one spot. And we kind of combined it all together. - Very cool. That's that, that, yeah. And you're, you're hitting it from all directions there. That's excellent. - And then when it comes to the thermal, we do like a steam inspection. So like a lot of older campuses in the Northeast have like a centralized heat plant, they make steam or high-temp hot water, and then they pump it to all the buildings on campus through underground utilities. So that radiator system in the building has a heat and they can kind of be distributed throughout the building. And a lot of these systems are older and so they're leaking. With a thermal camera, we can see the heat coming up from the ground and identify where they have issues. And so we use video a lot. We actually map, we've programmed the drone to follow the steam line and we actually map it out in visual and thermal and we combine in picture in picture video. And so, the facilities manager uses that because now they can kind of see like a guided tour of their system and so when they bring new people on board or they're trying to communicate with management, we get a nice video representation of where it is. And so everybody can kind of understand where it is on campus and how it runs between the buildings and all that. So they find that extremely helpful. - And yeah, another way, you know, to kind of keep track of that lost energy. Right? So that actually ends up being a big piece of it. I would imagine. Hotspots on the roof. Hotspots in the heating system, right? And you can find a lot of those issues. Well, that is excellent. I'm going to move on to question that I ask everybody on this podcast. It's kind of the thread that connects all the episodes. So this is the Smarter Business Podcast. What is one thing that you've done to make your business or a client's business smarter? - Yeah. It's a good question Neil. And so I came out of a big company environment in Lockheed Martin, where they had tons of resources, people to help you with anything, you mean in different roles and different jobs. And as many people know, as you start off as an entrepreneur, it's either a one man band or in our case, it was me and Will that started the company. And so you're kind of, they joke you're a chief cook and bottle washer. You're doing everything right. And you're learning a lot on the fly and it's it can be overwhelming, but you know, the one thing I recommend is take advantage of the resources that are out there for entrepreneurs and startups. And that's one area where we were very fortunate. We got connected with Launch NY early on and they connected us with a mentor who was like a coach who could give us advice and guidance along the way. So we weren't starting from scratch, you know, they could share their lessons learned and what they figured out and help us think through the business model and business plan and what we're trying to do to give us the best chance for success. So if you're looking at getting into your own photography business, or drone biz, or whatever it is, take the time to seek out the resources that are out there to help entrepreneurs. Because there's great people out there that are giving back and it's been key, you know, instrumental to our success - those programs. So I would highly recommending Launch NY. You know, here in Buffalo, we were part of Genius NY and Syracuse. We've been part of an incubator that's funded by SIR resources. So take advantage of the resources that are out there, and you do your best to connect with others. There's mentorship groups, there's entrepreneurship groups, there's all kinds of resources out there for people who want to get started on their own. - That's great advice. I mean, it's so hard to figure it all out on your own and you know to tie it back to what you said about the drones, right? If something's already there, don't reinvent the wheel. Listen to your mentor, use the drone that works well for what you're doing. Just, you know, kind of keep it moving forward. So that's excellent advice to anyone. So. - Thank you. - The last thing I always do with any interview, podcasts, or, you know, in person interviews is always just give the interviewee a chance just to say something. If I forgot something, if our conversation knocked something loose, you know, that you're thinking about now. I always like to have an open-ended. Did we miss anything, Patrick? Is there anything else you want to add and "no" is an okay answer. - I mean, I think we covered most of it. I mean, I really appreciate the opportunity, Neil, to be on the podcast. I hope your listeners find it meaningful and interesting, but you know, really excited to have the opportunity to start my own company and now be five years into it. I mean, when you start a company and everything, you gotta get past the first few months, you know. So five years later, you know, excited and blessed to still keep it going and, you know, it's great technology. I look forward to seeing where drones and drone technologies are gonna go the next five to 10 years and hopefully we continue to be a part of the industry and keep it going. - Excellent. Yeah. And you know, belated welcome home. I did the same thing. I boomeranged, right? As a lot of Buffalo people call it, now. I was out of the town, came home to start up so. Interesting times because of a lot of that going on. And yeah, thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us and yeah. Keep it going. That's, you are on the forefront of the drone innovation, especially in this local space and it was great to have you on. And to everyone listening and watching, you know, thank you for checking us out. If you found the information that we went through here useful, we would love a review or a subscribe and share this with friends and colleagues who might find it interesting. Patrick, back when we were in studio and we did this, we would shake hands right now, but we'll do the Zoom wave. Thank you very much. - Thank you, Neil. (upbeat music fades)