Which drone tech companies are landing in Brisbane

They come from above, and in great numbers.

From 31 August to 2 September those people who control the eyes in the sky across the globe will descend upon Brisbane for the inaugural World of Drones Congress, an event combining a conference, expo, drone tournament and an outreach program designed to connect scientific minds with industry folk keen to see what these hovering marvels can and will be able to do.

So what makes Brisbane the right fit for such an event? What’s in the water (or the air) that has caught the attention of the world’s drone industry leaders?

Event organiser Dr Catherine Ball, who has been nicknamed the Dame of Drones, recently told the ABC that scientists and different industries had been flying drones in Brisbane and Queensland for non-military purposes “longer than anywhere else”.

“We’ve been working on projects that are more diverse here than anyone else,” she told the ABC. “We’ve actually been at the forefront of this stuff but we just don’t talk about it or it doesn’t seem to grab the headlines.”

Dr Ball described the regions surrounding Brisbane and further into the rural and remote communities as the “Goldilocks zone” for drone research - big enough to be effective equipment and program testing grounds but far enough away that they’re not affected by a city-centre environment.

And it’s making Brisbane an attractive place to set up shop and take to the skies.

The drone companies in Brisbane and what they do

Dr Ball said the drone industry had its eyes firmly planted on the state and that international companies were choosing to locate offices here.

There are an abundance of local operators, such as Aerial Advantage, covering off everything from film and photography to surveying and agricultural practices. But recently, international companies such as Terra Drone, ST Solutions Australia (Softbank) and Trumbull Unmanned have landed here, and are working with governments, researchers, startups, universities and businesses to expand the technology and their capabilities.

Japanese company Terra Drone set up in Brisbane in early 2017, and reports that its surveying drones are helping to streamline mining, railway and pipeline constructions. They say their drone technology operates at one-third the cost of traditional methods and takes one-fifth of the time.

ST Solutions Australia, owned by Japanese telecommunications multinational SoftBank Corp, has also set up a studio in Brisbane and is working on the development of humanoid robots, artificial intelligence and other autonomous systems.

ST Solutions Australia Director Business Development Takatoshi Watanabe said the company’s work in Brisbane was not limited to robots, but included other platform technologies such as the internet of things, artificial intelligence and, of course, drones.

“The projects covered by our Proof of Concept agreement will give Queensland a unique opportunity to position itself as a leader in innovative commercial collaborations and industry development,” he said.

“The SoftBank Group is one of Japan's largest public companies employing 63,000 people globally across its technology and internet businesses – our presence will give Queensland startups access to SoftBank's global expertise and network, helping them excel and grow.”

Houston-based company Trumbull Unmanned has also landed in Brisbane. It provides data acquisition, processing, and analytics via unmanned vehicles for the energy sector. The company says its unmanned aerial vehicles increase safety, reduce human exposure, decrease the time it would normally take to collect data and perform operations, increase savings, and improve detection and response times across their projects.

And Brisbane’s universities are also leading the aerial charge. QUT recently announced it will deploy drones in a two-year project to survey and collate data and high-resolution imagery on koala numbers throughout South East Queensland, a project the university says is a world-first for its drone-use methodology.

QUT’s drones are about to survey koala numbers in South East Queensland for two years. Image: QUT

The University of Queensland’s Professor Stuart Phinn is the Director of the Remote Sensing Research Centre, which provides private and public sector organisations with satellite and airborne images and field survey data that can then be used to better understand where, how and why environments are changing, and to separate natural changes from those produced by humans.

Dr Ball told the ABC that QUT was a pioneer in drone technology. “QUT started doing a lot with drone technology 10-15 years ago and people forget the first pioneers with this technology sometimes but it’s useful to recognise that we’ve actually been punching above our weight on this for quite a long time already. It’s great to see a global focus.”

Where to for drone technology now?

That’s where the World of Drones Congress comes in. Keynote speaker Thomas Frey, Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute in Colorado, will delve into the new global drone economy while Australian businesswoman and philanthropist Lucy Turnbull’s keynote speech will cover The Drone Revolution - Changing the Way We Live.

And that’s but a taste of what the congress will deliver in terms of thought leadership, a look into drones in the environment and industry and the future of global drone manufacturing.

You can find out more about the congress here.

More stories from the July edition of the Brisbane Report