Newcastle startup HiveUAV helps drones fly longer in remote areas

When it comes to drones, the concept of our online shopping being delivered by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has both excited and concerned consumers. However, a Newcastle startup has been working on technology that aims to help the millions of Australians working in sectors like agriculture and mining in remote areas.

Dr Chris Renton and Ilche Vojdanoski created HiveUAV last year, looking to fix common problems with drones such as short flight times – the average flight can last only 25 minutes – and the need to manually change batteries and get images and data off the vehicles. They have created a ‘hive’, or base station, for drones that automates takeoff, landing, data transfer, and wireless charging.

The initial idea came to Vojdanoski, whose background is in marketing, when he decided to look into business development opportunities with drones and noticed common issues around battery life.

“I approached Chris about working together because I knew of him through the University of Newcastle. We chatted about whether there were any opportunities in this space and, fortunately, he was open to the idea. His background is essentially in autonomous vehicles, which goes really well with what we were trying to do,” Vojdanoski said.

After beginning work on the project in October last year, the pair applied for the first Slingshot Jumpstart accelerator intake. Vojdanoski said the three month program has been helpful in getting HiveUAV to identify its market.

“You nail down on what’s important, testing your business model really thoroughly. It’s great for us and that’s even more so when you’re a hardware startup, because it’s very easy to go and build things and then come back and realise there’s no market for it or people really aren’t interested in it. We’ve been able to with clarity identify our markets and what we have to do to get in there and what those markets want from our products,” Vojdanoski said.

The accelerator has been run in conjunction with the NRMA, with one of the benefits of the program being that the startups may have access to the company’s 2.4 million-strong member base or partnership opportunities if the fit is right.

“We’ve had some conversations to see how we fit in with what they’re doing, and how we might be able to work together down the track…we’re looking at things like traffic monitoring, and monitoring road conditions, which fall neatly into what the NRMA is all about,” Vojdanoski said.

The startup has also been in contact with stakeholders in the mining and agriculture industries, as well as the emergency services sector, securing five trials that will begin rolling out next month.

“We’ve been quite active in our approach. We’ve looked at areas where people are already using UAVs and understand the value that an UAV or drone provides, but are still suffering the problem of limited flight times, having to manually operate them themselves or using third party operators, which obviously is a cost exercise.”

Vojdanoski said that following the Jumpstart Demo Day next week, 2015 will be all about scaling through local distribution networks and finding investment, with an eye to launching overseas next year.