With a new drone on the strip, a wildfire-fighting drone startup Parallel Flight Technologies (PFT) never fails to impress.
On Tuesday, February 2, 2022, the Startup Challenge 2020 runner-up unveiled the “Firefly”, featuring Parallel Hybrid Electric Multirotor (PHEM) drone technology, capable of carrying 100 lbs of cargo for two hours, at a speed of 70-100 miles per hour.
The unmanned aircraft system (UAS) uses parallel hybrid electric multirotor (PHEM) technology to allow the Firefly to carry its own mass plus fuel for over two hours. And at just over 100 lbs and three feet tall, with a five-foot wingspan, the Firefly could fit in the back of a pickup truck.
According to PFT CEO Joshua Resnick, the new drone offers a massive improvement in terms of flight time. Electric drones generally face a 15-minute time limit while carrying a full payload, drastically cutting back on their useability. Weighing only 100 lbs, the Firefly can carry an equal payload weight, reaching speeds of 70-100 miles per hour.
“One of the key challenges facing rotor-based drone technology is flight time, and we’ve got a number of customers that are coming here today for that exact reason,” said CEO Joshua Resnick. “That’s why I think there’s interest in this technology, specifically because of the limitations of the current electric drones. When you fully load those all-electric systems, you’re flying for about 15 minutes, not enough flight time for accomplishing the missions you want to do. So our technology is an order of magnitude improvement in that flight time.”
PFT used an electric prototype of the hybrid drone to showcase its abilities in a tactical resupply demonstration. During the demonstration, the prototype picked up and moved four 100 ft wildfire hoses, weighing 60 lb in total, from one location to another. The drone then returned to pick up and move a large container to the same place.
Founded in 2018, PFT’s drones were originally designed to accomplish tactical resupply missions, such as bringing critical equipment into emergency situations, such as wildfires and medical emergencies.
Today, the startup is beginning to expand into other areas, such as delivering vaccines to remote areas in Africa and above the Arctic Circle. The aircraft also functions as a collection and communication tool. Featuring infrared and visible spectrum cameras, the drone can feed real-time data back to ground control stations.
THE STARTUP CHALLENGE CONNECTION
PFT has come a long way since placing second in the Venture Division at Startup Challenge 2020. Since participating in the event, the startup has taken the UAS industry by storm, securing funds, patents, and partnerships.
“Startup Challenge has been great in helping me hone my pitch and get in front of investors,” said Resnick. “It was also a great way to engage with the startup community and startup resources. I highly recommend it!”
Startup Challenge Monterey Bay is an annual competition for new businesses in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Benito counties that teaches, coaches, mentors, networks, and connects entrepreneurs to the knowledge and resources they need to succeed in the marketplace. Applications to Startup Challenge 2022 are due May 7, 2022, for Venture, Mainstreet, Social Venture, and Student divisions.
Over the past two years, PFT has secured grants from NASA, NSF, and USDA, and completed a six million dollar crowdfunding round. The startup recently initiated a fourth crowdfunding round to support the development of the Parallel Hybrid technology demonstrated in Firefly.
The startup has also designed and tested new hybrid power modules and airframes for the beta-level aircraft and filed two additional provisional patent applications for their key algorithms and the safety mechanism developed under NASA. They have signed on to trade on StartEngine Secondary and unveiled a mobile Ground Control Station, used to operate heavy lifting drones from remote locations.
Parallel Flight Technologies was recently named an official partner of the Alaska Center for UAS Integration (ACUASI) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, a major participant in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) BEYOND program. As the program is designed to integrate UAS operations in the National Airspace System, PFT will be working directly with the FAA to reach its goal of commercial approval.
With numerous other partnership options on the table, the startup already entered an agreement with Lift aircraft for hybridization of their manned HEXA platform.
“We literally have a hundred different applications that people are requesting for different industries, ” said Resnick. “Everything from exterminating rats on islands, to carrying things to the top of wind turbines, to stringing power lines. So all these different applications, literally hundreds of applications.”
PFT was also named drone of choice for Project Vesta, a rapid wildfire detection and response pilot project led by the Naval Postgraduate School, integrating a variety of innovative fire technology partners.
In addition to their work in the US, PFT is currently in the process of launching Parallel Flight Europe BV, a drone as a service (DAAS) project.
Parallel Flight Technologies’ Next Steps
So what’s on the horizon for PFT? The company plans to double their team over the next twelve months and, eventually, expand the weightlifting capabilities of their drones as well.
“We’re going to be building bigger,” said Resnick. “We have aircraft in mind that can carry up to 500 pounds, but I like working at this scale initially because it keeps the costs relatively low and enables you to iterate very quickly and then perfect the technology. And from there scale-up, but we do have plans for larger systems. Eventually, we want to be able to do nighttime spot fire suppression with 50 gallons of water.”
But with PFT growing at rapid speed, Resnick stays true to the company’s original mission.
“It’s not just about numbers, it’s about making the future better than the present,” he said.