Red Cat 4-Ship system allows multiple drones to work with one another
By DRONELIFE Feature Editor Jim Magill
Red Cat Holdings [NASDAQ:RCAT] is held in the AdvisorShares Drone Technology ETF [NYSE ARCA:UAV], the only ETF dedicated to the drone economy. The AdvisorShares Drone Technology ETF is a thematic investment strategy seeking to capture the growth opportunities in drones and autonomous vehicles (AV). AdvisorShares is a DRONELIFE sponsor.
The future of commercial drone and military drone use is likely to hinge on the development of technology allowing simultaneous flight of multiple drones, with each UAV being able to communicate with its mates as well as the operator on the ground, in order to successfully complete a mission.
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Red Cat Holdings recently announced the launch of its version of a multi-drone system. The company says its 4-Ship software, marks the first time a commercial company has brought such a system to market. The product, which will be commercially available some time this fall, is expected to have widespread applications for military and police as well as future uses in commercial markets.
Developed by Red Cat subsidiary Teal Drones, and in close cooperation with its strategic partner, autonomous system developer Autonodyne LLC, Red Cat will offer the multi-vehicle package in two configurations: 4-Ship and 4-Ship+. Both configurations will allow a single pilot to simultaneously control up to four of Teal’s Golden Eagle UAVs. The Golden Eagle is the first drone mass-produced entirely in the U.S. under strict guidelines from the U.S. Department of Defense.
The 4-Ship system will allow a single pilot to control multiple drones, which will act in coordination with one another, greatly reducing the amount of time to complete a mission and virtually eliminating down time needed for battery changes, the company said.
“The real cost for government or for commercial operations is the cost of the pilot; it’s people’s time and we’re very sensitive to that,” Red Cat COO Allan Evans said in an interview. “What we always want to try to do is unlock the potential of the operator rather than unlock the potential of the airframe.”
Pending FAA approval of commercial multi-drone applications, the new system would allow an operator to survey a field in less than a quarter of the time of performing the same task with a single drone. In military and police usage, the 4-Ship system would prove invaluable in situations requiring constant monitoring of a scene, such as in a hostage situation, Evans said.
If one drone in the configuration is nearing the end of its battery life, the system will automatically signal for the launch of a replacement UAV with fresh batteries, while the first drone automatically lands for a recharge – all without a loss of the communications link with the operator on the ground. “In this way, you can have a drone system that has infinite battery life and never has to functionally leave during the mission that you set for it,” he said.
Although a number of drone-related entities have experimented with multi-drone systems, Red Cat is the first company to develop the technology on a commercial scale, Evans said.
He compared the transition from experimentation to commercial production to baking cookies. “You can bake a dozen cookies, and they can be pretty good,” he said. “And the idea of going from research — which for us is like making a dozen cookies — to production is saying, ‘Okay, now that I made a dozen cookies, how do I make 12,000 cookies?’”
A true interactive multi-drone system also differs from multi-drone light show displays often viewed at big public events such as the Olympics, in which each drone operates independently of all the other UAVs in the display. “I call it a blind ballet,” Evans said. “None of [the drones] are aware that the rest are there. They each just follow their own route.”
In the 4-Ship system, on the other hand, the operator designs the mission and the software divides the mission into discrete tasks that the individual drones can autonomously perform in concert with one another.
Growth through acquisitions
CEO, Jeff Thompson, a tech entrepreneur with a long track record of founding and leading companies from the startup phase to successful exits and Initial public offerings, founded Red Cat several years ago as a vehicle to incorporate several smaller drone companies into a U.S.-based drone and software company large enough to compete with well-established international market players, such as DJI, Evans said.
“The idea was to acquire different pieces of these smaller companies that might have certain troubles standing up on their own, like maybe having not-robust finances, or maybe not having easy access to capital, which you need to grow,” Evans said.
As a publicly traded company, Red Cat provides products, services and solutions to the commercial drone industry through its wholly owned subsidiaries: Fat Shark Holdings, a leading provider of first-person view (FPV) video goggles; Rotor Riot LLC, which sells FPV drones and equipment through its digital storefront located at www.rotorriot.com; and Red Cat Propware, which is developing a software-as-a-solution (“SaaS”) platform to provide drone flight data analytics and storage, as well as diagnostic products and services.
Recently Red Cat improved its exposure to military and security drone markets with the acquisition of Teal Drones, manufacturer of the Teal Golden Eagle, one of the first seven commercial drone manufacturers to achieve Blue UAS certification allowing the company to sell drones to the U.S. military.
Teal, along with another subsidiary, Skypersonic, which provides secure, distributed storage, analytics and software to the drone industry, forms Red Cat’s enterprise segment. This company segment focuses on serving the government drone market, comprising military and public safety customers, such as police departments.
Evans said he expects demand from this market segment to grow as states such as Florida adopt provisions calling for public service agencies to cease the use of Chinese-manufactured drones and components.
“We’re trying to fill in some of the gaps that are left there with DJI being on the entity list and pulled out of the marketplace,” he said.
Read more about Red Cat, Teal Drones, and FatShark:
Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with almost a quarter-century of experience covering technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring in December 2019 as a senior editor with S&P Global Platts, Jim began writing about emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones, and the ways in which they’re contributing to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, a publication of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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