Innovative Technology Series

Drones Are Making the World Better: Interview with Ryan Cowell, Soaring Skies

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

"Drones are going to have a positive impact on the world" observed Ryan Cowell, Soaring Sky, and he is a part of a movement that has increased momentum due to changes in technology, uses, and regulations. Welcome to an interview with Ryan, who discusses the opportunities and changes, and also how he is providing training to all, including high school-age students, to be successful drone pilots and thus get started in a high-growth field.

What is your name and your relationship to drones?

Ryan Cowell, I am a drone pilot and Co Founder of a Commercial Drone Company.

How did you get interested in drones?

I first got interested in drones when my business partner told me about them one night when we were in the Keys and how he wanted to use them in his current real estate business. I started researching this new technology and saw that the possibilities were endless. I knew drones were going to have a positive impact on the world.

What do you do with drones?

Our company provides a variety of services from Aerial Photography and Production, Surveying & Mapping, Inspections, Precision Agriculture, and Education. What is your particular niche? We specialize in all these services but I feel we are making a big impact in the education industry. Our company has developed a drone curriculum that is being used in middle and high schools across the country.

Please describe two of your favorite projects or experiences with drones.

My most challenging drone project would have to be a highway extension project we did in Florida using the senseFly eBee. Its data would be used to provide a report to the client on the overall progress of the site.

The site was roughly six miles long so we had multiple missions to fly. This was by far the biggest mission we had done to date so I would be lying if I didn't say I was a little nervous. The missions were carefully planned out to ensure the best results; we'd researched the area and made all the preparations for a safe flight. No matter how much you prepare and plan though, you always have to be ready for something to change. When we arrived on site the conditions were less than optimal. We had high winds, towers that were not on the Google Earth map we'd used for the planning, and not a lot of space to launch and land the drone. The site was about five hours from the office so turning around and going home was not an option. So we quickly had to adapt and re-plan some of our missions. The winds were definitely exceeding 15 mph and coming in all different directions, so I could tell the eBee was going to have to work pretty hard. I will never forget the one flight where we launched and the low battery warning came on but we still had just a little bit left to map. I knew the eBee could handle it so I decided to let it complete the mission. Once it finished the mission it started returning home but for some reason it was moving so slow. I realized it was flying against the wind and it had probably 15% battery left at this point. My heart started pounding and I think I even started praying for it to make it back in one piece. It was probably 100 yards out and the battery was reading 'Critical 0%'! I thought for sure it would drop but to my surprise it landed safe and sound.

Needless to say, this project was definitely one for the books. We were able to gather all the data needed and take it back to the office for processing—the 3D model was awesome! We love to push the limits but always want to make sure we fly as safe as possible.

What do you see as the future for drones?

The role I see drone technology playing is invaluable. Our whole company is based off of using this technology. I believe every industry will have a need for this technology in the future.

The way I see the future unfolding with drones themselves is going to be full autonomy. We are going to be able to launch our drones from remote locations and gather data that we can then analyze and provide reports to our clients. Every business will be able to integrate drone technology in to their day to day workplace.

What are a few of your plans for the future?

Soaring Sky will continue to create a career path for students at the high school level. With the age requirement being 16 to receive a part 107 license, students currently in or right out of high school can get a full time job flying a drone. Our curriculum prepares these students for a career in the drone industry.

Soaring Sky will also continue to grow globally and become the leading provider for commercial drone solutions.

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