Send in the Drones
When unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – or drones as we would colloquially call them – were first introduced, they were largely being designed for covert military operations. But today, long-time aviation robotics enthusiast Kamarul Muhamed has turned his passion into an operation which is in the business of improving and saving lines; rather than taking them.
As a global market leader in using drones and software to better inspect and manage assets in high-risk areas, Aerodyne has been collaborating with the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) to use his technology to solve real problems in our world.
Disrupting the asset management ecosystem
A technopreneur who possesses a perennial passion in aviation and robotics, Kamarul Muhamed never imagined that his obsession with drones would one day transform the global asset management industry.
Yet, today he owns Aerodyne; an international drone-based managed solutions company which uses custom data collection and analytics to survey and manage assets across various industries such as agriculture, energy, oil & gas and telecommunications.
Disrupting the way in which industries mobilise costly resources to analyse assets in high-risk locations, Aerodyne’s drones-as-a-service (DaaS) solution now comprises 35,000 flight operations and has inspected over 100,000 assets in the 18 countries the company currently operates in.
Today, Kamarul is collaborating with the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) to bring Aerodyne’s transformative droned-based asset management solutions to throughout the world to solve its most pressing problems.
Turning one’s passion into profit
Prior to Aerodyne, Kamarul was working in a boutique production company which was founded in 2005. Despite its small setup, the agency’s portfolio included projects for government-linked corporations and multinational firms around the world.
In 2009, he was given the chance to shoot a documentary but had to mull over how he could go about shooting the production’s required aerial shots of Egypt, Turkey and Russia. While he initially considered hiring a helicopter, doing so would require weeks of planning and logistics as well as balloon the project’s costs.
Despite being a relatively new technology at the time, Kamarul instead opted to use drones as they could me economical and more easily mobilised. Following the project’s success, he considered how he could expand upon this idea to solve more pressing issues whilst creating more business opportunities.
“The media work we did tended to be one-off projects and was heavily reliant on individual talent – making it difficult for us to scale”, he said.
By seeing how drones can provide a faster, better and cheaper alternative for industries to oversee key assets in high-risk environments, Kamarul decided to transform his company from one that is visual-based to one that is engineering-based.
In 2014, Kamarul reformed the company into Aerodyne by making key hires of engineers and started to concentrate on building its own fleet of drones. However, Kamarul believed that a hardware solution was not enough; the company needed to incorporate the right software to analyse what the drones were surveying.
Throughout the following year, Kamarul saw that he could raise his scaling capacities by focusing on industrial enterprise applications – namely inspections and infrastructure asset management for companies in key industries such as power distribution and telecommunications.
“We realised that drones could help industries automate their inspection work whilst providing better intelligence, as we could extract more information from the drones’ sensors to help our clients manage their assets better.”
Kamarul shares some of the colourful adventures he has experienced around the world in his endeavour to grow the drones-as-a-service business.
Becoming a global market leader
Today, Aerodyne offers an end-to-end enterprise asset management solution which combines its core drones-as-a-service (DaaS) offering with its award-winning Vertikaliti and myPRISM cloud systems to integrate the data captured by its drones.
However, the company’s growth journey was anything but smooth. In its early days, Aerodyne was pegged back by its lack of resources such as funds and human resources. This is as – up until just last year – much the company’s growth was still fuelled by internal capital.
But Kamarul saw this as a short-term solution and knew that such a model would not be able to sustain Aerodyne’s profitability and expansion. The company needed to grow its personnel and R&D capacities to scale and increase its capabilities.
Simultaneously, Kamarul and his team needed to be sensitive of the local regulations of the markets they intended to expand to.
Yet, Aerodyne managed to weather through these challenges and later conducted its first overseas expansion in Australia – an achievement which Kamarul notes is amongst his proudest.
“At first, all we did there was showcase our technology. We were surprised at the positive response we received; seeing as we were just a little-known Malaysian company. But they hadn’t come across a drone company which makes actual business sense before.”
This served as a turning point for the company’s expansion. After establishing its presence in Australia, Kamarul believed that Aerodyne’s solutions could also be used in other markets and as such he and his team ramped up its global expansion in full force.
Currently, Aerodyne is present in 18 countries and has offices in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Australia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, the US and the UK.
The company also emerged as one of the global drone industry’s biggest players, with Aerodyne currently being ranked 7th in the 2018 TOP20 Drone Service Provider Ranking by drone market intelligence provider Droneii.com. It was one of the only two companies in Asia to make the list.
Solving real-world problems with MDEC
At the end of 2014, Malaysia was devastated by one of worst floods it has seen in decades. Largely affecting the country’s north-eastern regions, the floods displaced more than 200,000 people and causing the death of at least 24 people.
While the human toll was staggering, so was the effect on infrastructure and the national economy. As more than 100 health facilities and 300 schools were impacted, and in addition to economic losses faced by thousands of agriculture businesses, the total losses accrued was reported as having reached MYR1 billion.
Determined to do what he could to help alleviate the tragedy, Kamarul – at MDEC’s urging – used Aerodyne’s drones to support emergency response units by surveying the damage caused by the floods. And as the disaster personally affected him – his home state of Kelantan being amongst the worst-hit areas – Kamarul did the work at his own cost.
Aerodyne’s assistance in assessing the flood’s damage would prove to be a boon to its reputation. The aerial footage captured was shared widely on social media, mainstream media and government agencies at no cost. The company would later be supported by the Malaysia’s national telco provider Telekom Malaysia (Malaysia’s national telco provider), the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) as well as the Department of Survey and Mapping Malaysia.
“That was our first real collaboration with MDEC; despite it being a loose one at the time. Although we were still trying to find our feet as a business, we did what we could to support the emergency response efforts.”
Since then, Aerodyne has expanded its cooperation with MDEC by joining the agency’s Global Acceleration and Innovation Network (GAIN) programme last year – to which Kamarul noted has helped to elevate the company’s visibility locally and internationally.
This included MDEC positioning Aerodyne as Malaysia’s leading drone company within business and tech media. The agency’s championing of Aerodyne’s reputation also helped the company to be accredited by Frost & Sullivan as its 2018 Malaysia Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Services Company of the Year.
Moving forward, Kamarul helps that the MDEC partnership will continue to help propel Aerodyne’s visibility on the global stage. And the company is off to a good start, as MDEC is helping to raise Aerodyne’s visibility in Japan and – with support from the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) – helped the firm establish its newest office in Santiago, Chile.