On any given day, any given conversation can lead to opportunity for Fotokite and Craig Marcinkowski. That’s because every day, he’s surrounded – and supported – by fellow UAS professionals and industry experts in UAS Central.
“Right across the street we’ve got one of the leading UAS consulting groups in the world in NUAIR,” says Marcinkowski, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development. “The brainpower there is amazing. There’s so much value just there right across the street that we can utilize or leverage.”
The NUAIR Alliance of more than 200 private and public entities as well as academic institutions helps organizations learn how to integrate unmanned aircraft safely, cost effectively, and within the current regulatory framework. It’s just one example of the everyday opportunity to collaborate and grow Fotokite, an international enterprise that’s helping put UAS Central on the worldwide map.
Based in Zurich, Switzerland – one of the top areas in the world for advanced aerial robotics – Fotokite has been around for about a decade. The founder and a lot of their talent came out of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, a university on par with MIT in the U.S. Fotokite specializes in tethered systems, which is unique to the space.
The tethering works on a couple of levels. For one, it all but eliminates the need for heavy batteries. Second, it allows people – in this case first responders – to operate them without an FAA license.
“Working with the FAA for over a year, we were able to obtain a new designation of a system called ‘actively tethered aircraft,’” Marcinkowski says. “It’s was a really big step.”
“You have a one-button launch. It goes up and sits there on the scene and then it can stream that video to lots of different places or a commander can use it,” he explained. “But you don’t have to be actively piloting, you don’t need a couple of pilots on the scene, you don’t need to bring it down after 10 minutes to change the batteries.”
Fotokite, which recently moved all its manufacturing from Zurich to New York state, launched the technology in North America with established names like Pierce Manufacturing in the fire department market and Axon Enterprise for law enforcement. Its footprint is growing quickly.
“Fotokite would not be here if it wasn’t for the GENIUS NY program, and if it wasn’t for state investment and the conscious ecosystem we’ve built with UAS Central,” Marcinkowski says. “Fotokite is one of many. There are a lot of GENIUS NY and UAS Central ecosystem success stories here and I’m happy to be part of one of them.”
GENIUS NY is the world’s largest business accelerator competition that awards millions for unmanned systems. It provides UAS startups all the tools they need for success like stipends, resources, programming, advisors and connections. Fotokite is a recent recipient of the $1 million grand prize.
“What’s the best way to take your initial investment, people, resources and maximize it as quickly as possible? You want to be in an ecosystem, you want to be around people who can help, you want to be around academic institutions,” Marcinkowski says. “All those things we’ve thoughtfully put around the UAS Central ecosystem.”
A big piece of that ecosystem includes industry leaders like Lockheed Martin, SRC and Saab Sensis, who have long been innovating in Central New York. An Air Force Base until 1995, Griffiss International Airport is now one of only seven FAA-designated UAS test sites in the nation.
“There’s that whole heritage of aviation that naturally fed into the whole UAS ecosystem here,” Marcinkowski says. “It’s amazing what we have here in our backyard.”
Then there are the names of so many startups operating out of the Tech Garden, a business incubator in downtown Syracuse and surrounding area. Entrepreneurs are continuously building meaningful relationships and tapping into all UAS Central has to offer.
“Maybe I’m a startup, trying to figure it out. I’m still trying to navigate the FAA, I have to hire a very expensive consultant, I still only get a little bit of their time,” Marcinkowski says. “Juxtapose that to here: I’m in the Tech Garden, I’m supported, there are UAS companies all around me, there’s NUAIR right across the street, there’s a drone corridor … I’m sitting right here in the middle of all this. What an empowering position to be in.”