Aquiline Drones, Drone Volt overcome odds to open manufacturing and assembly plant during pandemic
HARTFORD, Conn.—Starting a business at any time comes with myriad challenges. Add in a global health emergency and the obstacles can become seemingly insurmountable. That didn’t stop two visionary drone technology companies—U.S.-based Aquiline Drones (AD) and French manufacturer Drone Volt (DV)—from creating an intercontinental partnership and opening a commercial drone manufacturing and assembly facility in Connecticut.
At its new facility in Hartford, Aquiline Drones is now in production to meet increasing demand for American-made drones. The manufacturer produces Drone Volt’s Altura Zenith and Hercules 2 drones—re-branded by AD as the Spartacus line of drones: Spartacus Max and Spartacus Hurricane.
“The Aquiline Drones/Drone Volt consortium is nothing short of epic, given the current state of our world,” said Barry Alexander, founder, chairman, and CEO of Aquiline Drones, in a company release. “We have overcome the damaging effects of COVID by establishing ourselves as an escalating U.S. manufacturer in this burgeoning industry—building an entire drone ecosystem, pushing the limits of technology development, and delivering useful capabilities, previously imagined, but never before seen.”
In December 2020, Aquiline Drones signed exclusive U.S. manufacturing, sales, and distribution licensing agreements with Drone Volt, a French manufacturer of professional civilian drones. Aquiline Drones also entered into a strategic partnership agreement with Drone Volt and Aerialtronics through a 10 percent stock/equity swap with the companies. Under the terms of a five-year deal with Drone Volt, Aquiline Drones becomes the sole manufacturer of the Pensar smart camera, a multispectral sensor with artificial intelligence and edge computing capabilities, along with manufacturing the Spartacus drones.
Amid growing concerns over foreign-manufactured technology, Aquiline Drones is striving to help position the U.S. as a leader in what is reported to be the fastest growing segment of the transportation sector.
“Growing data security concerns over foreign-manufactured technology, mainly from China, has created an immediate need for increased drone production capacity in the United States,” Alexander said. “Our goal is to not only position our country as a leader in the multi-billion-dollar global drone industry, but also to reestablish America’s manufacturing dominance. This is in perfect harmony with our company’s powerful strategic vision of making Connecticut the drone capital of the nation.”
Following the equity swap in December, Aquiline Drones embraced the challenge of replicating Drone Volt’s well-established France-based manufacturing environment into its new U.S. facility. Under normal circumstances, the plan would have required extensive repositioning of technology and leadership to facilitate rapid transfer of knowledge and skills. In this case, however, COVID travel restrictions made it impossible for the French and American teams to travel and coordinate these processes in person.
Leaders at Aquiline Drones and Drone Volt stepped up to the challenges of the pandemic. Teams on both sides of the Atlantic quickly created a digital training environment with video connections that allowed AD to see and emulate DV’s manufacturing process as it occurred—recorded and in real-time. In addition to the meticulous information transfer process, highly technical training modules were recorded and digitized. As COVID-19 raged on across Europe and the U.S., virtual teams worked 24/7. Video technology became essential in executing supervisory and quality control tasks.
“By using teleconferencing techniques to rapidly test and transfer manufacturing capability, we were able to save a tremendous amount of time and money,” Alexander said.
As a result, Aquiline Drones and Drone Volt are said to have exceeded aggressive targets outlined in their business plan for current investors and shareholders. Alexander noted that AD has a team of twenty-five technicians working in its new 7,000-square-foot drone manufacturing and assembly lab.
“To quickly scale our commercial drone production capacity, our team decided to consolidate all manufacturing operations at our downtown Hartford headquarters to avoid the logistical challenges of managing a separate facility,” explained Alexander. “Safety and performance are key areas of focus in the UAV industry and this process enables us to maintain stringent quality control throughout the production cycle.”
The company’s manufacturing expansion plans include adding a second shift of production workers, moving into a larger facility in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and sourcing of specific components from American-only suppliers.
Also on the horizon, Aquiline Drones and Drone Volt are aiming to conduct remote drone operations from across the Atlantic. Drone Volt operators on the ground in France will remotely control Aquiline’s drones flying in the U.S. airspace through a drone-dedicated, hybrid cloud created by Aquiline Drones.
“We are literally days away from this massive technology feat and are appreciative of the State of Connecticut’s support and assistance in making our venture successful,” Alexander said.