Botlink Phones Home Drone Data

By Bill McNeil

Botlink is a Fargo, North Dakota-based startup that has developed a cloud-based drone platform that collects, processes and delivers real-time data via radio and cellular connections. The following is an interview with Botlink’s CEO Terri Zimmerman and Marketing Director Brian Jorvig, conducted last month at AUVSI's Xponential trade show in New Orleans. The screen shots were added to illustrate Botlink's features. 
Q: Can you first give our readers a little background on Botlink?
A: Three military unmanned aircraft pilots and sensor operators founded Botlink, originally called Aerobotic Innovations, in 2014. The company developed an app that aids drone pilots with situational awareness and provides them with weather alerts, aircraft locations and flight restriction information. In June of 2015, Aerobotic Innovations and Packet Digital, a hardware developer, formed a joint venture to create Botlink, secured local angel funding and Terri Zimmerman, CEO of Packet Digital, became CEO of Botlink, LLC. Botlink’s 30 employees consist of pilots, electrical engineers, web developers and software developers. 
Q: What exactly does Botlink do?
A: We have a drone application platform and we provide real-time data delivery and processing to the cloud. Our XRD module is a light-weight cell device that mounts on a UAV. It connects you to the cloud and sends data to the operator via their mobile device or computer.

(Image: Botlink, LLC)

Q: What UAVs are compatible with Botlink?

A: There is a long list of both fixed-wing and rotorcraft that work with Botlink. Basically any drone that is MavLink Protocol-based. This means anything from home to commercial UAVs running PixHawk autopilot should be compatible with Botlink. 

Q: Let’s say I’m a surveyor. Can you walk our readers through a typical workflow scenario?

A: There are 3 parts to Botlink. You have control, then safety, and then the data delivery part. In control, you set your field boundaries by tapping on the screen of an Android device to adjust the polygon so it encloses the desired area to be surveyed. Next set the flight altitude, then set the percent of image overlay and finally upload the mission to the drone. Once the survey mission has been uploaded, tap the takeoff button and the drone will autonomously fly the mission, collect data and automatically land.

(Image: Botlink, LLC)

While flying, we have something we call “drag, drop, drone.” This means you can just drag the drone to a different location and it will loiter there until you tell it to continue the mission, or you can just press the return to home icon and the drone will return. That’s the control side.

On the safety side, we have a number of tools that make you aware of what is happening around you. We’ll show aircraft advisories, provide local weather and where you can and cannot fly.


(Image: Botlink, LLC)

On the data delivery side, we deliver all the data gathered from the flight through the cloud. There is no taking memory cards out of the aircraft, uploading the data, and then processing it. Our XRD device provides the drone operator cellular connectivity. This means we have backup control via radio and cellular signals but, more importantly, it means we can start processing the data from the UAV camera as it is flying.

The images flow into our cloud, where we geotag and stitch them into one big ortho photomosaic. The surveyor, in the field or 1000 miles away, can log in and, depending on the number of pictures, start using the data in his mapping application before the UAV lands. We are the only people that do this.

Q: Who are your customers?

A: Right now our biggest markets are government and agriculture. We just signed an OEM agreement with AgEagle. They are using our platform with their UAV for precision farming.

This is just the beginning. Botlink is a solution for many different industries. 

(Image: AgEagle Aerial Systems Inc.)

Q: Have you talked to any other UAV manufacturers?

A: We’re talking to many different people. Our contacts range from end users to drone manufacturers. Our goal is to have as many people as possible using Botlink.   

Q: How is Botlink marketed?

A: We have sales people throughout the U.S. representing Botlink and, as previously mentioned, we have just completed an OEM agreement with AgEagle. They will ship our solution with their UAV. The AgEagle/Botlink solution will, in turn, be marketed through Raven Industries, which has hundreds of retail outlets.

Q: Who supports the system?

A: Our OEM partners provide first level support of their aircraft, but we provide backend support on our software and XRD cellular device. Our customer success team is U.S-based, and we provide phone, chat and email support.

Q: How is the Botlink solution priced?

A: It is $499 per month for the Botlink subscription with an initial $500 fee for the XRD cellular module. The XRD is the key to connecting to the cell network. It gets installed on the aircraft with antennas and, even if you are in a rural area, you’re still picking up a 4G signal better than you would with a cell phone.


It is difficult to predict which startups will succeed, but it seems like Botlink could be a good bet. Botlink’s platform combines mission planning, weather forecasts and flight restrictions, but their biggest asset is being able to download data collected via a cell network in real time. We will continue to follow their progress.    

Published Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Written by Bill McNeil

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