Pegasus Imagery, an Edmonton-based data and drone company, continues to work hard to bridge the gap between military and consumer applications for drone technology. Their recent move to the Edmonton region’s Villeneuve Airport in Sturgeon County was based on a strategic decision to support the firm’s overall goal of supporting the regulation of drone technology operating beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in Canada.
“The Villeneuve airport is a phenomenal space for us,” says Cole Rosentreter, Pegasus founder and CEO. “It’s bright and it’s modern – so far we are loving it here. But more than that, we’ve been warmly welcomed by the general aviation community here. Because the regulations don’t yet exist in terms of how manned and unmanned aircraft should operate in relation to each other, there is a tendency for some to be risk averse. But what we’ve found here, is that the team at Villeneuve is open to new ways of doing things, which allows us to take more risks in terms of what we are trying to do. This location works as a ‘sandbox’ for us where we are able to test new ways of how we can operate in a controlled airspace.”
Pegasus is also working closely with Transport Canada to establish a regulatory environment for BVLOS for the industry.
“Selfishly, this is a great advantage for us,” says Cole. “Being a first mover in this space will allow us to help deliver real-world data to Transport Canada as they create new regulations for how this industry will be governed. It was interesting, when we first approached Transport Canada, they weren’t that interested. There was a hesitancy to even consider BVLOS operations for drone technology. But when we showed them how the technology we had developed worked, they were excited about the possibility. They saw that we had developed a solution to the problem that had made them hesitant to even consider the expansion of this technology.”
That technology is A3S, or Autonomous Airspace Awareness System, that actively detects and tracks other aircraft in the area, both manned and unmanned, and autonomously executes the safest course of action to avoid collisions. This technology also has the added benefit of improving the scalability of the products that Pegasus is developing.
“Essentially, we can go from having one pilot on the ground, operating one unmanned aircraft, to one pilot operating 20 units,” says Cole.
Cole is bullish in his belief in the potential that drone technology can bring to the aerospace and aviation industry and points to the size of the industry and the massive amount of opportunity that exists. Big companies like Suncor and Trans Mountain are looking for the data they need to improve their business functions and Pegasus is providing the solution.
“Pegasus is hitting the mark when it comes to overcoming the technology barrier and doing it at a scale that makes economic sense,” says Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global. Malcolm had a long and distinguished career in the military prior to shifting to the private sector. “Pegasus isn’t just bridging the gap between military and commercial aerial vehicles; they are creating a new market. And their technology and approach is helping establish the national standard. Pegasus provides data at the scale that satellites or manned aircraft are able to accomplish but they’re doing it cheaper, better and faster.”
Pegasus continues to push forward with the commercial applications they’ve developed and have recently been chosen to participate in the Boeing LaunchPad program – a partnership between Boeing Canada and the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service. It’s similar to an accelerator program and is aimed at businesses operating in the aviation and aerospace industry that are demonstrating innovation in their field.
“This is a great opportunity for Pegasus,” says Cole. “It’s really a win-win situation. Boeing is looking at expanding its reach into new markets and is looking for new technology partners to improve their competitiveness. By partnering with companies like us, when they go to the Government of Canada, wanting to sell their products and Canada asks, ‘What’s the benefit for us?’ What we’re hoping is that somewhere in their answer is Pegasus.”
The program will give Cole and his team access to senior Boeing executives and prospective investors and partners, opening up the potential of licensing and selling their technology to Boeing or working on a joint venture. Boeing has selected 10 companies from across Canada to take part in this pilot program and Pegasus is the only hardware and software technology – most are working in the artificial intelligence and machine learning space.
Pegasus has also been selected as one of 20 companies worldwide as a Cycle II semi-finalist for NASA Itech. An honour which Cole refers to as “humbling.”
“Most people, when they think of NASA automatically think of space. But the first A in NASA actually stands for aeronautics,” Cole points out. “For the last 6 years NASA has been the lead agency in the United States doing research and development around what the new future of aerospace management looks like. With the influx of millions of drones, commercial flights, and rocket launches – how are we going to manage that? What we’re doing at Villeneuve is very similar to what NASA is doing… they’re just at a much larger scale.”
Cole says that new technology they are developing at Pegasus holds great potential for launch applications as well – evidence that Pegasus continues to be an industry leader when it comes to being forward thinking in providing the solutions that a wide variety of industries are looking for.
“People have had 20 years to be underwhelmed by drone technology,” says Cole. “We are changing that.”