Get to know Tom Davis, whose long standing affinity for aerospace dates back to the Apollo era and extends to his present day responsibilities as CEO of Aerial Vantage.
In this Q&A, Davis dishes on his aerospace background, the aviation revolution and current state of the drone market, the opportunities of uncrewed aviation, and his outlook on the future of drone technology. Alongside a highly experienced team, Davis explores Aerial Vantage’s unique position at the forefront of these trends and the capabilities the company has to become a national industry leader.
1. What does your day-to-day look like?
It’s an exciting time to be a part of Aerial Vantage! On any given day, you can find Davis building out the company’s sales strategy while expanding its evolving story. Oftentimes, this entails working with the company’s Board of Directors to discuss strategies for gaining new investors.
When fine-tuning the Aerial Vantage story, it’s important to think about what the company is going to bring to the table that sets them apart from competitors. Davis spends a good amount of time conducting a continuous competitive analysis to gauge what similar companies are offering customers, and what is working or what isn’t.
In addition, a company is only as good as its relationships. At the heart of what Davis does is a continuous push for developing and nurturing partnerships with entities which might be good strategic partners, including state governments, large or small companies, universities, etc. The goal here is to give the Aerial Vantage team access to the most expertise at their fingertips and to forge a mutually beneficial relationship going forward.
Currently, Aerial Vantage has a strong partnership with Mosaic Data Science, a recognized industry leader in custom machine learning & artificial intelligence services. This enables the company to consistently bring customers cutting-edge insights from drone missions. Davis continues to attract top talent like Mosaic by looking at an organization’s roots and common interests – do they align with Aerial Vantage’s services of flying drones and collecting, processing, and applying data?
Finally, the Aerial Vantage team may be small, but it is mighty. The company is growing at a rapid fire rate thanks to the brilliant individuals that work there. Every week, Davis touches base with each person on the team to ensure everyone has a good understanding of the company’s focus, direction, and who their customers are.
2. What inspired you to lead the charge with Aerial Vantage? What parts of your background and past experiences led you here?
Davis inherited an interest in aviation at a very young age from his father, an aerospace engineering professor. In fact, his father used to have Neil Armstrong over for dinner.
Years later, Davis would go on to spend 36 years working for NASA. It was during this time that he met Chris Brinton, current chairman of Aerial Vantage. Their 30 years of working together would end up being a major factor in his career move over to leadership at Aerial Vantage.
Davis also held a five-year stint at an aviation consulting company, supporting state DOTs in launching a number of first-in-nation drone flights. This also proved to be an enjoyable experience, and he developed longstanding relationships with individuals in the FAA that he would go on to carry into his current role.
Given his background and friendships, Davis says a career move to Aerial Vantage just made sense. The company’s mission of enhancing the way customers do their work while developing solutions that reduce aviation’s and data storage impacts on climate was something he could get behind.
But most importantly, it was the team that ultimately swayed Davis to take on the role as CEO. Aerial Vantage had assembled a strong group of professionals that Davis knew were easy and fun to work with. He had faith that this highly experienced, capable lot was the right team to get it done.
3. Where is Aerial Vantage going? Who does the company aim to help and what impact will it be making?
Aerial Vantage’s work highly depends on a core question: How do we navigate the regulatory system to fly drones?
“Uncrewed aviation is the next revolution in aviation after the jet engine,” says Davis. “The time is right and the regulatory system is evolving to help achieve this. Plus, the timing with Aerial Vantage is right, because gathering imagery in an industry like agriculture and using analytics is a highly valuable service for customers compared to other use cases.”
The bottom line, Davis says, is that it’s important to time your business so it is not entering the market after it has already evolved. Instead, the key is to enter it as it’s changing or right before. This is Aerial Vantage’s current position, with a keen focus on agriculture.
We see Aerial Vantage as a disruptive company in the agriculture space. We are accelerating the process of extracting and analyzing value from imagery data with the efficiency we get from flying uncrewed aircraft or drones.
Across industries, manned drones incur an additional labor cost that isn’t seen in unmanned drones, helping customers save money and time. Aerial Vantage can fly multiple drones – someday soon, up to 5 or more – with one pilot, allowing them to scale quickly and drive the price down for imagery and processing.
On top of their efforts in precision agriculture, Aerial Vantage is also looking to make an impact in forestry and natural resource land management, as well as carbon monitoring and in building infrastructure like roads and rooftops and conducting border monitoring. On the emergency response front, the company has the ability to help with large scale missions such as wildfire fighting and flood damage assessment after storms, offering quick analysis in remote areas.
4. What are the biggest market opportunities for data management and analytics for drones?
Davis agrees that agriculture presents the biggest market opportunity for data management and drones at this time. Precision agriculture involves collecting aerial imagery, which creates massive amounts of data. Aerial Vantage can alleviate the pain point of having to sift through all of this data through management and processing capabilities rooted in artificial intelligence and machine learning, so customers are not holding onto unnecessary data for so long.
Over-storing data in massive data centers can be expensive and have a climate impact. These data centers absorb large amounts of energy to continue running. A core mission of Aerial Vantage is to become more efficient in how we store this data. If a customer is only saving what they need, they are simplifying data management and mitigating carbon footprints.
5. Why does Aerial Vantage fit in so well with the drone data management space and what does the company have to offer to lead in this market?
To answer this question, Davis points to Aerial Vantage’s Accelerate software. Customers can use this platform to digest and simplify large amounts of data, only storing information that helps with decision making and with planning the next mission.
“Our data management platform, Accelerate, is capable of tagging, organizing and archiving data in a way that is easy to access at any time & place,” says Davis. “We want people to use our platform and analytics to complete successful drone missions at a fraction of the price. While we can process data from other drone flights, we also fly our own drones.”
Today, most aerial imagery is processed within 48-72 hours. As mentioned, Aerial Vantage offers first-class data analytics capabilities through a relationship with Mosaic Data Science, enabling the company to process raw data and extract insights in real-time or in a number of minutes or hours.
In addition, Aerial Vantage has existing regulatory and FAA relationships in place to help guide progress in the right direction and quickly bring value to customers.
“Our leadership is rich with people who understand the regulatory environment and how to manage it,” says Davis. “ For example – our Director of Flight is the former chief pilot from the world’s largest airline, contributing to our safety-first culture.”
6. What are the benefits of drones?
Davis agrees the benefits and opportunities of drones are endless.
“Once the industry’s regulatory hurdles are cleared, we should be able to operate drones more safely,” he explains.
Drones offer customers the advantage of getting into places that larger aircraft can’t, at a higher precision than a human pilot would. Plus, drones can operate at a larger scale and at a lower cost than human labor due to their highly automated nature. Finally, unmanned drones can be a lot safer than sending individuals on the mission.
When it comes to efficiency, Davis says, drones have a competitive edge as they can fly for as long as 6-7 hours. They are faster than planes and people, and their electric technology makes them more energy efficient, releasing less of a carbon footprint. On the maintenance front, drones have simple motors for less upkeep than other aircraft.
There is also ample opportunity for future growth in the drone space, Davis adds. When the industry is ready to certify autonomous functions, Davis speculates that drones will be on the leading edge. An autonomous drone would make decisions on its own, using machine learning and artificial intelligence to think like a human pilot.
Without a doubt, the future of drones is looking brighter than ever – and Aerial Vantage is leading the charge.
“I love our team and am excited for the growth we have planned,” Davis says. “We’re looking forward to making an impact by applying these benefits and bridging the gap between drones and data.”