Directions Exclusive: Parrot’s Yannick Levy on senseFly

By Bill McNeil

Parrot is one of the world's leading manufacturers of unmanned aerial vehicles, entering the industry in 2010 and making rapid advances in drone technology ever since. William McNeil, Directions Magazine's contributing editor for the UAV industry, recently interviewed Yannick Lévy, Parrot's vice president of Corporate Business Development.

Q: Perhaps we can start by you giving us a little background on Parrot.

A: Parrot is a Paris-based, publicly traded company listed on Euronext, founded in 1994, that creates, develops and markets high tech wireless products for the consumer and professional markets. We currently employ over 900 people worldwide and generate the majority of our revenues, about $220 million, outside of France. The company operates in three main groups:

  1. Automotive (hands-free infotainment solutions and communication systems for cars),
  2. Connected sound objects, and
  3. UAVs (consumer and professional).

We have a team of about 100 people in China manufacturing drones, but we have offices all over the world. In the US we have two offices, one in San Francisco and the other in Detroit.

Q: According to your July press release, revenue from drone sales has increased 189%. How did Parrot get into the drone business and how do your UAVs generate GIS data?

A: Parrot entered the drone or UAV market in 2010 when it introduced AR Drone. It became a very successful worldwide consumer product because it was an inexpensive solution. To date we have shipped over 1.5 million drones.  

AR Drone

In 2012, we realized the commercial market was going to be huge, so we decided to look for startups rather than designing a commercial drone ourselves. We found senseFly,an amazing product developed by a team of robotics researchers at the university in Lausanne, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne. They had ideas about a drone that was able to fly autonomously without the necessity of having pilots controlling the flight. So this was a very interesting drone in our opinion. It was light and safe, so we decided to invest in senseFly. 

eBee fixed-wing UAS

Parrot currently owns more than eighty percent of senseFly and our agreement enables us to acquire 100 percent in the future. We have made senseFly the professional arm of Parrot. Today the eBee fixed-wing drone is being used by surveyors and GIS professionals all over the world. I would say that the eBee is probably the most popular — by volume sales — fixed-wing drone in the world.

When we invested in senseFly we realized it was a good drone to take pictures, but we also needed a good software solution to convert images from the drone to a set of data that can be processed by third-party mapping and GIS solutions. Therefore we have been working with another Swiss company called Pix4D. This application converts data from senseFly flights into 3D images, measures distances and computes area volume. In addition to investing in senseFly, we also invested $2.5 million in Pix4D.

The GIS market was a very attractive market for us because many of the applications could be solved less expensively using our drone technology.

Q: Does this make the eBee UAV and Pix4D combination an end-to-end geospatial solution?   

A: Yes, I think that was the main feature of the solution. When you buy an eBee drone, you get Pix4D and the navigation software, called eMotion, all in one. This means an eBee owner gets a complete solution that will allow him/her to process the drone data using Pix4D so it can be used in Esri, MapBox, Google and other GIS solutions.

Q: Aside from the eBee, eMotion and Pix4D bundle, does senseFly offer any other GIS options or equipment?

A: We also offer a full range of cameras designed for all types of surveying, mapping and remote sensing solutions. These devices range from the S100 RGB, which acquires regular RGB image data in the visible spectrum, to the S110 NIR which acquires image data in the near infrared band, to the S110 RE which acquires red edge band data. Exposure parameters can be set manually and images can be output as RAW data files for all cameras.

We also offer sensors for thermal mapping and infrared solutions, and a sensor with multispectral capabilities.

Q: Do you have any type of plan for those people that like your technology but don’t have a consistent or ongoing need for it?

A: SenseFly has put together a service called Drone Connector. Individuals or companies that want to contract for GIS or related work can go to this site and add their project requirements. Drone Connector will provide a list of qualified service providers that have attained Section 333 exemptions. In others words, these are drone operators that can legally fly UAVs for commercial work.

Interested in learning more? Some senseFly geospatial use case studies are listed below. A more complete list can be found at https://www.senseFly.com/applications/case-studies.html.

UAS Photogrammetric Point Clouds: A Substitute for LiDAR? from Lidar Magazine.

Jarlath O'Neil-Dunne of the University of Vermont's Spatial Analysis Lab describes the pros, cons and suitability of LiDAR and drone point clouds.

UAV Aerial Topographic Surveying: Can it replace GPS ground topographic surveys?  from Ontario Professional Surveyor. McIntosh Perry Surveying and UKKO teamed up to compare the accuracy of an eBee RTK survey with that of a traditional base station and RTK rover approach. 

GIS-Ready sUAS: Producing GIS-ready 2D and 3D products to support decisions in transportationfrom xyHt. Jarlath O'Neil-Dunne of the University of Vermont's Spatial Analysis Laboratory explains how drones can be used to produce GIS-ready 2D and 3D products to support decisions in transportation.

From senseFly,Mosini at Caviezel  used drones to create an accurate 3D model of a quarry in Eclepens, Switzerland, geo-referenced by ground control points, in order to measure the volume of extractions.

Water control/drainage using UAV imagery from AgSky Technologies Inc. This company is using drone-sourced elevation data to address problem drainage areas in fields.

Surveying a repository site in Chile from senseFly. OZS conducted a drone survey of a windy, dusty repository site in Antofagasta, Chile, and created ortho and digital models of the site. 

AgSky Technologies: Precision Agriculture as a Way of the Future from The Canadian Business Journal. The Canadian Business Journal talks with Warren Genik of AgSky Technologies about the eBee-based services the company offers farmers in the region.

Baptise Tripard on senseFly drones for GIS In this video interview, on the Esri website, Esri's Amanda Walker talks with Baptiste Tripard, senseFly's sales manager for North America, about the benefits of collecting data by drone.

UAS searches for rare Mistletoe in Cayman Islandsfrom UAS Vision. Learn how the Cayman Islands government joined forces with Kew Gardens' GIS team to locate a mysterious Mistletoe species, Dendropemon caymanensis, using a senseFly UAV.


Published Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Written by Bill McNeil


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