Can We Learn Anything From A Dragonfly About Making a Better Drone?

Vincent Van Zalinge (Via Unsplash)

Alex Caccia is a serial entrepreneur, with start-ups in hardware and software, as well as sports equipment. He is also the CEO of Animal Dynamics, a spinout company from the Department of Zoology at Oxford University.  Animal Dynamics is setting out to develop a portfolio of products derived from research into evolutionary adaptions in flight, swimming, walking, based on the fundamentals mechanisms of high-performance animals. Their current project, the Skeeter Drone, is micro droned with flapping wings like a dragon fly.  In this episode, Alex talks about Animal Dynamics, the science behind looking at high performance animals, the Skeeter Drone, and the role of university based research in launching new technologies.

In This Episode

  • Introduction.  Alex Carria is serial entrepreneur and CEO of Animal Dynamics, a spinout company from the Department of Zoology at Oxford University.
  • Approach. Alex discusses how Animal Dynamics applies lessons learned from studying high performance animals in the natural environment to improve products.
  • The Skeeter Drone. The new Skeeter Drone is modeled after a dragonfly.  It’s about the size of a dragonfly and has flapping wings like its insect counterpart.  These wings give it added stability in high winds.  Alex talks about the dragonfly drone and the challenges working at a micro level and developing products that operate at that small scale.
  • Applications. The Skeeter dragonfly drone was commissioned by the British Military to provide added situational awareness capability for British Troops.  It has been compared to the ‘horse fly’ drone in the movie, “Eye In The Sky”, but it will not have the advanced capabilities of indoor spying depicted in the film. Rather, Skeeter is designed be carried by individual solders and intended to provide a view of the surrounding terrain.  It will give troops the ability to see behind buildings, over hills and around obstacles. It
  • Origin Of the Company.  Animal Dynamics is a spin out of the University of Oxford Zoology Department.  The University has a stake in the company, but Animal Dynamics is completely separate from the Oxford.  This relationship is commonplace in the U.S. where many Universities have created pathways to launch promising research without conflicting with the primary education mission of the University.
  • Lessons Learned. Alex discusses how the research of the company has given him a greater appreciation into the role of nature and high performance animals.  He also talks about how working at the micro level requires a different set of skills and experience. It’s one thing to design something on a CAD.  It’s entirely different when trying translate that design into a working product at the micro level. According to Alex, so much can be learned by working directly at the micro scale. In fact, the ‘micronization’ could very well be creating the craftsman of the twenty first century.
  • Drone Market. Alex shares his thoughts on the future of the drone industry, where he sees a need for more specialized software applications to respond to the myriad of requirements that he envisions will surface. He concludes by saying that successful entrepreneurs in the drone industry need to demonstrate a need for the drone application. The technology is seductive and can be used for a variety of applications, but just because it can be used to something, doesn’t mean there’s a market for it.
  • Closing.

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