HiveUAV is a local start-up business. It was one of six teams who won $30,000 each in seed funding in the NRMA Jumpstart program powered by Slingshot.

The vision for HiveUAV is to enable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, commonly known as drones) to fly autonomously and complete missions on a large scale for commercial applications.

Slingshot co-founders Trent Bagnall and Craig Lambert say their last intake, that included HiveUAV, was the strongest yet but are anticipating a strong field when 2015 applications close on August 6.

In talking to HiveUAV co-founders, Dr Chris Renton (a University of Newcastle mechatronics lecturer) and Ilche Vojdanoski (a University of Newcastle graduate), it’s evident that it’s all systems go.

According to Iliche, the program itself provided an opportunity to test their business idea and build it out in a structured and disciplined fashion.

“We had guidance from business people, startup founders and mentors with experience,” he adds.

The real driver behind HiveUAV applying for the program was the $30k seed funding on offer, together with the opportunity to thoroughly test their idea with business experts.

After applying, Ilche says that they were invited to pitch their idea to a panel from NRMA, Slingshot, Artesian and a small crowd.

“The format was a 5-minute slide deck and presentation, then a Q&A with the panel.

“It was both exhilarating and nerve wracking and we were relieved at the end, but it was well worth it!”

Chris remembers that it was an exciting time as they started the program. “It felt great to really test the concept we had developed and to be in the program with five fellow startups,” he says.

“As our startup is focused on business-to-business, we had to really refine our idea, our target markets, the problem we were solving, and the business model.”

Both HiveUAV co-founders felt the reality of the program was much different to their expectations.

“We learnt so much,” Chris says. “Working with Slingshot we learnt to apply a new business model process to what we were used to.

“We were informed about product and market fit, continually refining our business model and idea until we had something that was valuable to customers.”

Iliche adds, “This involved testing, throwing out assumptions and most importantly gaining traction.”

Chris and Iliche, like all the program’s participants, completed a weekly workshop with experts in business modelling, marketing, pitching, software, user experience, growth hacking, and social media.

“From my experience, this program reduces twelve months worth of work into three, so it really helped accelerate our business growth.”

Developing local talent

One of HiveUAV’s other strengths is that they’re drawing on the local technical talent.

‘‘We’ve been using local designers and engineers to help with both design aspects and product development,’’ says Chris.

‘‘The prototype is underway and almost all of it is being done locally, with the University of Newcastle helping with marketing.’’

According to Chris, as UAV technology improves, drones are becoming more common for use in applications including agriculture, fire monitoring, search and rescue operations, emergency services, surveying and mining and construction.

“UAVs can be great in these areas as fast data and image gathering helps increase productivity, improve planning, reduce costs and increase safety,” says Chris.

HiveUAV is addressing the major challenge for existing multi-rotor drones – their short flight time and requirement for manual labour to operate.

“Hive is a solution that will enable automated take-off, landing, data transfer and charging that can be located just about anywhere,” says Chris.

Chris Renton sets out the vision:

“Imagine a network of multiple autonomous UAVs and automated docking stations that enables an operator to plan, execute and monitor the mission without the need to micromanage UAVs and battery power.

“A cooperative multi-UAV system that enables continuous coverage of a set mission area.

“An on-demand system that can be operated remotely without the need for manual intervention.

“An intelligent system that simplifies operations and unlocks applications limited only by our imagination.

HiveUAV expects the product to be on sale next year.

Newcastle’s Slingshot networking event will take place on Monday July 20 from 5.30 – 8pm at the Hotel Delany. To book your free ticket, go to their eventbrite site.