By PAUL MARYNIAK
A Chandler pilot is taking his passion for drone technology and turning it into a new enterprise for industries in need of aerial imagery.
Michael Clark, 37, launched Valley Drone Solutions a few months ago with the goal of providing clients the type of wide-ranging, bird’s eye-view images that can only be captured by a hovering drone.
A Realtor needing some dramatic landscape shots of a big property could potentially call on Clark to fly one of his drones for a photo shoot.
Or an outdoor enthusiast looking to document a hike through the Superstition Mountains can contract with Clark to capture moments from hard-to-reach angles.
The types of projects involving drones continue to grow and expand, Clark said, which continues to offer new opportunities for his emerging business.
In the beginning, Clark had thought his drones would mainly be used by the real estate industry for marketing purposes. But drastic changes in the market have recently reduced the demand for sellers to need glossy images of their homes.
“Since the housing market is so hot right now,” Clark noted, “there’s really no need for those drone pictures and videos.”
Now the business is pivoting toward using drones to document the construction progress of various industrial projects and collecting real-time data that can be helpful to the builders.
Clark said his drones can be used to conduct photogrammetry, the process of using two-dimensional images to make precise measurements of physical objects and spaces.
Clark’s drones can take hundreds of snapshots of a piece of property and those images can later be analyzed by Clark to create 3-D models of the project site.
It can be more efficient for builders and planners to rely on a scaled-down model, Clark explained, since they can save time on taking measurements by hand at the actual site.
“You can get the accuracy down to the centimeter-level with certain practices,” he said about his 3-D models.
A native of Ohio, Clark has spent most of his professional career working in the aviation industry. After earning a degree from Purdue University, Clark moved around the country until a job at Honeywell brought him to the Phoenix area, which seemed like a suitable area for the young professional to settle down.
Clark additionally earned a master’s degree last year in unmanned aerial systems, which has enhanced his technical knowledge of the drone industry.
When the pandemic started last March, Clark felt some uncertainty about his future job prospects and began brainstorming ideas for ways to capitalize on his aeronautical knowledge.
Flying drones had long been a hobby for him, so it seemed like he might be able to turn his pastime into a new business venture.
Drones have the capacity to make various supply chains and delivery systems more efficient, Clark noted, so their relevance is becoming more ubiquitous.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there are more than 873,500 drones currently registered throughout the country and more than half of them are used for recreational purposes.
The drone services market is forecast to be worth $63 billion by 2025, according to Insider Intelligence, due to a growing demand for drones in the agricultural, industrial, and government sectors.
As drones become increasingly prevalent in modern society, Clark thinks there will be a growing need for unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct a wide variety of tasks.
Just in the last year, drones have found some new uses as Americans began self-isolating in their homes and needing a hands-free delivery service that could provide their groceries and packages.
“Through the pandemic, there were a few areas with drones that have really grown,” Clark noted.
Valley Drone Solutions is presently trying to provide a mix of services that can serve both commercial and creative projects.
One of Clark’s most memorable jobs was an outdoor expedition with a client who wanted a drone to record his group’s hiking adventure.
In a situation like this, Clark’s services weren’t just limited to flying the drone. He had to spend hours walking alongside the hikers, helping them navigate the wilderness and survive the elements.
“It wasn’t just going out and taking pictures,” Clark said. “It was being part of the group and helping out.”
There are still many opportunities drone pilots like Clark can’t explore due to strict government regulations that are currently in place.
The rules don’t allow for drones to fly beyond a pilot’s visual line of sight, meaning the vehicle can’t travel more than a couple miles from the pilot’s coordinates.
“Once you’re allowed to fly beyond visual line of sight, you can send these things miles down the tracks or the power lines,” Clark said.
As the federal regulations continue to evolve, the pilot expects his business to find new opportunities for drones to service the public.