Drones provide an aerial perspective for almost any use. Mobile apps for drones can take that aerial perspective and turn it into something useable: from counting sheep and cattle to pizza delivery. Meet Godfrey Nolan, president and founder of RIIS: one of the companies helping drones work harder in every sector.
Michigan-based RIIS has been around for 22 years as a mobile and web development company: now, they have developed a specialty in developing mobile apps for drones. “As a group of technically-inclined people who are all passionate about solving tough problems and immersing ourselves in what’s coming next, we initially wanted to figure out drones for ourselves,” says Godfrey Nolan. “Once we did, we knew we would be able to help companies in a number of ways, and we’ve been doing that for the last four years now.”
RIIS has sought out new areas of interest since their beginning. “Over the last two decades we’ve grown from two guys and a laptop to more than 50 team members,” says Nolan. “Each quarter we pick three new areas to investigate. When 3DR and DJI first released SDKs, drone development was an obvious choice for us, and we quickly started creating mobile apps for drones.”
The Evolution of Drone Apps
“We think of a drone as a flying robot attached to a mobile phone and see great potential for automating many manually-intensive tasks. Over the years we’ve looked at how to use Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, Lidar, other newer SDKs and more to improve our service offerings. More recently we’ve started creating our own custom drones for unique solutions for our customers.”
As developers of mobile apps for drones, clients are as varied as drone applications. “On one hand, we work with companies who already have a drone app to help them get to market quicker or to help with problems their internal team or existing vendors aren’t able to solve,” says Nolan. “On the other hand, we work with startups who have a concept, for example in real estate or agriculture, and are looking for someone to take it from the conceptual phase to releasing it into the Google and Apple app stores.”
The variety keeps the work interesting – and as the field of SDKs (software development kits) expands, so do the opportunities. RIIS’ best known partnership is with Parrot ANAFI: but new drone companies are emerging all the time. “At the moment, they’re aren’t many companies with expertise in drone SDK integration or custom drone creation,” Nolan explains. “Currently, we’re receiving increased interest from companies who want to add Parrot Anafi functionality to their existing drone apps or extend their DJI functionality.”
“We can also help customers by adding livestreaming, Augmented Reality or Machine Learning to their apps. More recently we’ve started creating our own custom drones for customers who have very specific needs, typically built on the PX4 platform.”
Drone Apps for Anything
Drone apps can be applied to a vast field of problems – and they can make a serious difference in the world. “We have worked with a leading global agriculture company on a project that uses drone and other technologies to increase efficiency for farmers around the world,” Nolan says. “They are helping to solve some seriously important problems feeding the global population going forward.”
“A couple years ago, we also worked on using drones to count objects such as sheep or cattle. That was a really interesting learning curve to figure out how to train the Machine Learning model and then how to get that to interact with the drone… It would have been perfect if the cows didn’t keep moving!”
While RIIS is a software development company, they are applying their drone development expertise to add custom hardware services to their offerings. “Plans are underway to create a pizza delivery drone, a drone for dropping off Covid tests, as well as a drone to identify defects on solar panels,” Nolan says. “There are many ways drone technology and its development can make the world a better, safer place. We’d really like to be part of that evolution, after all the name RIIS was originally chosen as a nod to Jacob Riis.” ( Jacob Riis was a fascinating figure: an American journalist, social reformer, and philanthropist.)
What’s Important Now
Nolan has had his own challenges to add to the current pandemic. Those challenges have led Nolan to lead RIIS with new focus. “To add to all of the mayhem this year, I unfortunately added cancer to my personal list of things you didn’t think you’d have to worry about in 2020,” says Nolan. “Thankfully, I’ve fully recovered but the two big C’s – Covid and Cancer – have made me more resilient and more reflective. Many things I would have worried about in the past simply aren’t that important anymore.”
“I look forward to 2021 and see the new year being a happier, healthier and more productive year than 2020.”
Where is the drone industry headed?
RIIS sees a major expansion ahead – for their own business, and for the drone industry. “We have very few competitors because this little corner of the software industry is so new,” Nolan says. “We believe the drone industry is going to experience a significant jump in 2021 and beyond, mainly because people are looking for automated, drone-based solutions to lessen or completely remove human interaction.”
“We’re hoping the software services we offer, as well as new hardware services where we build one-off, custom drones, will uniquely place us at the forefront of delivering drone technology solutions.”
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