Buffalo, New York-based drone services business, EagleHawk, has recently developed a safe and effective method for disinfecting large areas, including sports stadiums, against COVID-19. The company is using disinfectant chemicals approved by the EPA and New York DEC. They will continue to evaluate new solutions as they’re released by the EPA. While stay-at-home orders are extended until the end of the month in many states, it could be as early as summer when people begin to reconvene in large groups at venues ? both indoor and outdoor.

This deadly virus will permanently change the nature of public gatherings going forward. Many people won”T feel secure attending an event of any size unless they know the area has been thoroughly disinfected. Hiring a crew of people to thoroughly disinfect large areas by hand is far too costly and time consuming. A helicopter couldn”T get in close enough proximity. This is where drones provide the best solution.

“Many of our clients are responsible for keeping their facilities safe and clean, especially during these unprecedented times,” said EagleHawk COO Will Schulmeister. “As engineers and innovators, we’re thankful that we’re able to adjust our services and solutions to fight against the coronavirus so our clients ? and their clients ? can feel safe and stay healthy as we work together to combat this deadly virus.”

“We used a set up of two custom drones, one equipped with high powered spray nozzles and a second customized drone to help manage the hose carrying solution up to the aircraft,” Schulmeister explains to InterDrone. “Off the shelf spray drone systems were designed for agriculture so we had to engineer a solution that met the needs for efficacy requirements for disinfection of viruses like SARS-CoV-2,” he continues about customizing the ideal solution.

I got the opportunity to catch up with EagleHawk COO to get more information on how the company was started. Those interested in adding COVID-19 disinfecting to their drone services business should read the interview that follows below this article.

DJI has been supplying drones to municipalities through their Disaster Relief Program to help combat coronavirus. Service providing protection against contracting the virus or only going to increase. It’s important, however, to make sure that the drone services business hired is using best practices. “While EagleHawk has engineered an effective drone solution to help disinfect large-scale facilities, we also caution companies to be weary of providers who are offering a service using off-the-shelf spraying drones, which were designed for agricultural use and are not suitable for disinfection purposes,” said EagleHawk CEO Patrick Walsh.

“Unfortunately, we have seen a number of companies recently begin to market such drone-enabled disinfection services using these agriculture drones, promising results that they won”T be able to deliver.” To that end, Walsh encourages venue owners to hire companies working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and their state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

InterDrone Interview with Willard Schulmeister, COO of EagleHawk

1) Why did you become interested in drones?

I’m a bit of a geography nerd and I have always been fascinated with maps. I obtained my Master’s in GIS and geography at the University at Buffalo in 2015 when I became interested in drones and saw an opportunity to essentially author an infinite number of maps by using a drone to collect data.

I had been working as an operations manager overseeing property inspections nationally in the insurance industry for several years. My day-to-day included working with maps, analyzing imagery, calculating risks and managing a team of inspectors in the field all over the country. At the same time, my interest in drones quickly became a passion and I found myself flying every chance I could. I was creating maps and 3D models daily.

Beyond the commercial aspect, flying a drone and viewing the world from above is a pretty amazing experience and I enjoy sharing that with others. With my passion for drones and entrepreneurial mindset, I was one of the first in the country to obtain a FAA Part 107 certification on August 29, 2016.

2) When did you start EagleHawk?

EagleHawk was officially founded in the Fall of 2016 by myself and my co-founder Patrick Walsh. Patrick and I were both starting drone companies right around the same time in Western New York. Patrick has a Master’s Degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology and has worked in the defense industry for Lockheed Martin specializing in advanced thermal applications.

Together we believed we had an opportunity to do some innovative things with drones and drone-enabled data and technology. We started our company by inspecting roofs and mapping out buildings for clients in Western New York in 2016. In our first large job, we inspected over 100 roofs in 2 days for the University of Buffalo and we developed a product that was extremely useful and cost-effective. With our backgrounds in GIS and engineering, along with a shared passion for drone technology and entrepreneurship, we founded EagleHawk and have been building our company ever since.

3) Tell us a bit more about the services you provide.

EagleHawk provides drone-enabled technology solutions for a variety of industries, specializing in large-scale data collection, analysis and UAS system and sensor integrations. We have built our business on conducting building envelope and asset inspections for our clients throughout the country. We use advanced cameras and sensors, such as infrared, methane detection and LIDAR to collect data and then we process, analyze, and interpret that information for our clients.

We also conduct aerial infrared roof inspections, steam system inspections, detailed building envelope assessments, data collection for mapping and survey projects, and solar panel inspections. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are now deploying an effective drone-enabled disinfection service to help combat the virus in targeted areas.

4) Your company recently devised a solution for disinfecting large venues to lessen the risk of contracting COVID-19. How is your solution different from others out there?

We began working on this solution in early March and we have dedicated our company’s resources to this effort in the wake of COVID-19-related shutdowns across the country. We have spent a great deal of time since then designing, building, researching, testing, and overcoming challenges as we develop and refine our solution. We have consulted with numerous chemical manufacturers, university researchers, the federal government, and other resources in the development of our drone disinfection solution.

Early on, we started testing with off-the-shelf agricultural spraying drones and found that they weren”T properly suited for our disinfection application. They are designed for outdoor agricultural operations, and they are great products for those purposes, but in order for disinfection to be effective you need to be able to meet the efficacy wet time requirements for the various EPA approved products and we felt we couldn”T do that effectively with the off-the-shelf technology. Some of those limitations include out-of-the-box altitude restrictions, the limited onboard fluid capacity that is depleted in mere minutes for this application, and limitations on spray flow rates that are otherwise necessary to achieve the necessary coverage to meet wet time requirements.

We believe we have developed an effective solution for disinfecting large venues and the key enabling technology we have developed is patent pending. Our solution has been thoughtfully designed for this specific purpose and includes a custom spray system and multi-drone setup for managing the hose. The process has been tested at stadiums such as the Key Bank Arena in Buffalo and the War Memorial in Syracuse, New York.

It has proven to be more efficient and safe than alternative considerations, such as having staff spray chemicals with backpacks or foggers. Those labor-intensive alternatives take longer and require additional PPE and manpower, while at the same time exposing those workers to unnecessary risks.

5) We talked about this on our latest podcast and hoped you could answer: can we assume indoor spaces are exempt from FAA regulations? How are you handling outdoor stadiums and venues in controlled airspace?

That is correct. The FAA does not regulate indoor flights as the pilot is not operating in the NAS. Drones can be operated inside of closed-air stadiums, arenas, theaters, and other indoor venues without being subject to FAA regulation. However, operating drones indoors in these spaces requires seasoned piloting and can be much more challenging than flying outdoors. I would recommend that anyone flying commercially indoor should also have a minimum of a Part 107 certification and some demonstrated experience operating larger drone platforms.

We will handle operations at outdoor stadiums and venues the same level of care as any other commercial operation from a regulatory standpoint. We will work with the FAA to obtain the appropriate airspace authorizations for commercial flight operations in controlled airspace. Over the past 3 years EagleHawk has operated in over 25 states and coordinated airspace authorizations all over the country.

The FAA also has a certification and waiver process for aerial spray applications.. Depending on what you are spraying, you may be bound to additional Federal and State regulations. We have been working closely with the FAA, EPA and NYSDEC to ensure that we are operating in compliance with all applicable regulations.

6) How did you hear about InterDrone Expo?

When I became involved with drones and co-founded EagleHawk, I spent a lot of time learning about the industry and making friends and connections within it while I perfected my craft. I heard about InterDrone right around the time we were getting EagleHawk going, either in an online group or through a solicitation.

As an entrepreneur just starting out with an idea, I was interested in the drone technology showcased by the show. This was right around the time that Part 107 was implemented so there were a lot of important discussions going on around policy in addition to the technology exhibition. I remember being eager to go to Vegas to attend.

7) What did you like most about the conference?

The best part about the conference was definitely seeing and meeting friends and colleagues within the industry. Getting all of the drone gurus in one place can only lead to good things. After spending days in the conference networking, learning, and exploring new technologies, being able to go out and fly drones in the desert with some great people makes for a pretty good experience.

8) What advice do you have for anyone starting out in the drone industry?

Considering the impact that UAS technology has had and will have on the world in the years to come, drone entrepreneurs will continue to come from all backgrounds with new ideas and excitement. The drone industry permeates so many other niche backgrounds, so it remains inspiring to see what people do with their specific skills and interests using this technology.

I would suggest that someone starting out in the drone industry should really try to harness their passion for what they do; be it flying drones, building drones or software, selling drones, or taking photos. One should gravitate toward a role that is rewarding personally because when you are passionate about something enough, you cannot fail. The drone industry is going to continue to grow exponentially over the next several years, with plenty of opportunity for new and innovative drone-enabled ideas.

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