Taking the noise out of drones is no easy matter. Auckland developer Dotterel Technologies is solving this problem and getting close to commercially launching its new technology.

Dotterel, fresh from a second round of capital worth $500,000, is working with several prospective customers on ground-breaking development projects that provide specific solutions. 

"(drone) Noise is a complex problem and each market has its own sensitivities, which dictates the amount of research and development that is needed," says Dotterel chief executive Mat Rowe. 

Dotterel, which develops and integrates a suite of noise reduction and audio recording technology for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones, has initially targeted three market sectors – cinematography, defence and industrial audio inspection. 

"We expect to be commercialising in 2018," says Rowe. "There’s a lot of cinematography happening in New Zealand."  

Getting ahead with critical IP

Rowe says there are increasing number of groups looking at reducing noise in drones but "we believe we have a first mover advantage on critical IP we’ve developed to allow drones to be quieter," Rowe says.

The noise from the drones is a major issue when operating around people and animals, and restricts their use in the majority of commercial applications, including filming.

Dotterel is solving the problem by developing lightweight propeller shrouds lined with sound-absorbing acoustic materials including locally-made nano-fibre. It has also developed software and hardware solutions for enhancing direct sound recording capability from the UAV.

"It’s very difficult to get rid of noise completely," says Rowe. "Noise is perceptive and we want to make the drone more easily blend into ambient noise. A quieter drone, for instance, is less disruptive on a film set and allows audio to be recorded in scenes utilising drones. Getting traction in this market is important for us."  

Dotterel founders
Dotterel Technologies founders, from left Shaun Edlin and Mat Rowe

Callaghan C-Prize provides a boost

Founded by four colleagues who worked at LanzaTech, Dotterel came to the fore when it was named a runner-up in the 2015 Callaghan Innovation C-Prize. The assignment was to develop UAV technology for the screen industry.

Dotterel attended the 2016 National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas and found itself the only company offering noise-cancellation systems for UAVs at the world’s largest cinematography and broadcasting convention. There Dotterel was handed The NewsShooter Most Innovative Product award. 

In January 2017 Dotterel attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, building up further contacts and opportunities.

Dotterel was also invited to the TechStars Adelaide accelerator programme and was mentored by experts from Boeing, Thales Group, Saab Group and Codan Electronics – with a focus on the defence sector and how to access their networks.  

ATEED’s advice has been invaluable and the grants have underpinned our R&D, helped us attend international shows and to access capital, and provide employment.”

Mat Rowe, Co-Founder of Dotterel Technologies

How ATEED helped

Aiming to be the industry standard for the future of drones, Dotterel has had strong support from Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) and Callaghan Innovation. 

Part of the Regional Business Partner Network, ATEED works closely with Callaghan and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to connect businesses to co-funding, incubators, accelerators and a network of experts to help them mitigate and overcome challenges, such as technical, IP and marketing.

Rowe says having a dedicated ATEED business and innovation advisor has helped them access funding and make important connections – "it’s not easy to navigate the capital raising landscape." 

ATEED facilitated Callaghan Getting Started, PhD Fellowship and Experience (summer-intern) grants for Dotterel. It also received a Callaghan Project Grant worth $430,000 with Callaghan funding 40 per cent of Dotterel’s (latest) research and development (R&D) programme.

"ATEED’s advice has been invaluable and the grants have underpinned our R&D, helped us access capital, and provide employment. But most of all, developing IP is very important to us," says Rowe.

"We looked at how large planes were so quiet and how we can create a similar quietness with smaller aircraft that are electrically powered. We used a mix of passive and active technology, and worked with Auckland University to develop algorithms to cancel out the noise."

"As the market matures, multiple commercial opportunities are presenting themselves where either reduced noise or audio recording capability are a requirement," says Rowe.  

At a glance

Dotterel Technologies’ business: Develops and integrates a suite of noise reduction and audio recording technology for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones.  

Location: Headquartered in Parnell, Auckland.  

Export markets: Exploring markets in cinematography, defence and industrial audio inspection.  

ATEED assisted by: Advising, making connections and facilitating Callaghan Innovation grants, which helped Dotterel complete further research and development, and protect its intellectual property.  

Website: http://dotterel.co.nz  

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