Lakeshore, Small Business & Startups, and Technology

Drone services company flying high

Great Lakes Drone Company, established in September in southwest Michigan, expands to West Michigan.

January 27, 2017
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Great Lakes Drone Company
This image of a frozen lighthouse in St. Joseph, which was shot by a drone, garnered national and international media attention. Courtesy Great Lakes Drone Company

Great Lakes Drone Company’s viral aerial video of a frozen lighthouse in St. Joseph in December put the new company on the map.

The footage, picked up by The Washington Post, NBC, the Chicago Tribune and several news outlets in the U.K., attracted so much attention that the Watervliet-based unmanned aerial videography, photography and survey company founded in September has expanded its operations to Grand Rapids and Lansing.

Reyna Price, sales and marketing director for the firm owned by Coloma residents Matt and Megan Quinn, said business has boomed since the video.

“We initially started (working with) realtors, which has gone really well, but then the video of the St. Joe lighthouse when it was frozen went totally viral,” she said.

“Now, we’ve gotten an environmental firm, architectural firms and also that’s how we got our strategic partners,” she said, mentioning Detroit-based Aerial Imagery Works and St. Joseph-based PlaneVue Aerial Imaging.

The partnerships allow the companies to share drone operators to mutually expand the territory they can cover in Michigan.

Great Lakes Drone Company now offers aerial and video photography, agricultural crop monitoring, construction monitoring and surveys, insurance claim inspections, aerial thermal imaging and inspections, missing animal searches, live aerial feed capabilities for events and aerial cinematography.

The company has eight drone operators under contract, two of which operate in the Grand Rapids area. All of the operators are FAA Part 107 certified, which allows them to fly commercially under Federal Aviation Administration rules.

While they don’t manufacture their own drones, the company uses an arsenal of drones commonly available in the marketplace, including the Phantom 4 Pro, the DJI Phantom 3 4K and the OSCAR 760. Each drone has different capabilities, including HD video and photography, thermal imaging and multi-color spectrum analysis used in farming.

Price said the drones’ applications to farming might be the company’s most surprising venture yet.

“We’re able to do thermal imaging to give farmers a better return on investment,” she said. “It can help them tell what areas in their fields are too wet or too dry, and can help them produce a better yield of their crop.

“We are able to tell if there is insect infestation, diseases and mold, so that the farmers can do crop damage claims with insurance companies.”

According to a fact sheet published by technology news site DroneZon in June, multispectral technology allows farmers to see the health of soil and crops beyond the naked eye, throughout the crop’s life cycle.

Crop monitoring isn’t the only use for thermal imaging.

“We do an animal search and rescue, as well,” Price said. “We can use thermal imaging to help people find their pets.”

On the business side of the operation, Price said Matt Quinn operates drones himself, and he also produces and edits the videos and photos the drones capture. He’ll use that skill in a soon-to-be publicized project.

“It will be announced soon that we recently contracted with a big local hospital that is doing an expansion,” Price said. “We’ll be doing a time-lapse video of their construction. At the end of the project, they will have a full time lapse of how it went with the drone software we use.”

Great Lakes Drone Company plans recreational uses for its services, too. The company will host the inaugural Great Lakes Cup Drone Racing and Expo July 21-23 at Van Andel Arena.

“We’re super excited about that,” Price said. “It’s one of the first drone races on the east side of the U.S. They do similar events in California and Las Vegas and even Dubai, and now, we are starting our own.”

Price said there are 300 registered racers in Michigan and about 100 more coming from outside the state. The racers will have qualified at other races to come to the competition at Van Andel.

The race has a $10,000 purse, and Great Lakes Drone Company has contracted with California-based YouTube channel operators That Drone Show to market the show and secure sponsorships to fund the event.

“We’ll also have That Drone Girl at the event, who is a celebrity drone racer. We’re trying to get more female drone racers, because it’s been a mostly male-dominated industry,” Price said.

She said there will be an area for spectators and room for booths for industry professionals who create and/or sell drones.

Price said the company has a calendar of 2017 events it will be participating in on its website, greatlakesdronecompany.com.

“We have satellite offices (in Watervliet, Grand Rapids and Lansing), but we can go anywhere,” she said. “We hope people catch up with what drone technology can do for their business.”

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