Flying higher: Creating a drone safe zone
Steven Flynn is a nine-time Emmy Award winning TV producer whose company Skytango is now leading the way in promoting better behaviour and legal compliance by drone users.
Most recently he worked with Vodafone Ireland to complete the world’s first delivery of diabetes medicine by drone.
We caught up with Steve to find out why he has switched from filming with drones to logistics.
You had a successful career in the US film industry, what made you become a drone pilot?
My wife – who is Irish – and I moved back to Dublin from the US in 2012. Drones were just getting started then. There were only two or three commercial drone pilots in Ireland so there was a niche for us.
It was a stressful way to make a living though. You couldn’t feed your kids purely relying on drone jobs back then.
Why turn gamekeeper and promote legal compliance?
Everyone wants to talk about the hype of the drone industry, but the reality is that it isn’t growing as fast as it could because compliance with all the regulations is a challenge, and communities need to embrace this brave new world.
There are a lot of permissions required, and paperwork needed to properly manage using a drone for commercial purposes.
We had an incident where we crashed a drone on a film se,t and only because we had properly complied with all regulations were we able to reclaim on insurance.
If I hadn’t followed the rulebook precisely it would have been a major blow to my company.
I realised there was a gem of wisdom in that horrible event, and Susan and I founded Skytango to build something that could help others.
Drone entrepreneur Steven Flynn. Photo credit: Andrew Downes / Xposure
What does Skytango do?
Skytango is a drone management platform and workflow solution, serving not only the needs of individual (indie) drone operators, but also enterprise teams, connecting them with their customers and the landowners/managers they are flying over.
When a drone pilot performs a mission, they can use Skytango to show they have permissions from all stakeholders.
Why do you connect to landowners?
Landowners on the platform can list their unique needs and requirements for a pilot, and can log into the system and be notified whenever a drone is about to fly over their property.
It is imperative that we win the hearts and minds of the communities we fly over when it comes to drone operations and connecting stakeholders and tracking compliance is a step toward that.
The Skytango platform. Picture rights: Steven Flynn
The Skytango platform. Picture credit: Steven Flynn.
How did you get involved in the #DiabetesDrone project?
Professor Derek O’Keefe of National University of Ireland, Galway contacted us to explain that he wanted to do the world’s first delivery of diabetes medicine by drone.
He had seen patients from remote areas of Ireland with diabetes, who had sometimes been unable to get insulin because they were cut off from attending the doctors, especially in bad weather like storms or snow.
We wanted to show that drones can alleviate that problem and help people in need of urgent medicine – and we chose the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway because it was a perfect place to test safely, and they have a community that has been cut off from the mainland due to weather events in the past.
Both drone services and medicine delivery are highly regulated, so everything needed to be completely legitimate.
Our team flew the medicine from Connemara Airport in Galway to Inis Mór, working closely with the Irish Aviation Authority, Novo Nordisk, Galway University, Survey Drones Ireland and of course Vodafone to deliver connectivity to the drone.
Vodafone Ireland enabled us to not only send live telemetry from the drone, but also a live video stream during the automated flight so that trained pilots could intervene if there was an issue, while allowing all stakeholders to see what was happening.
Do you think better compliance is the way forward for drones then?
Yes, if we can get the Skytango approach of engaging all stakeholders in a drone flight adopted at scale it will solve fundamental tensions in the drones industry.