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Blueflite on the future of the drone industry and their advanced drone systems and software

Lorenzo Murzilli, Co-founder of DroneTalks and founder & CEO of Murzilli Consulting, interviewed James McClearen, CTO of Blueflite, at the 2023 Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas, where he revealed how they developed their product offering as a start-up, the importance of product flexibility, as well as his predictions on the future of the drone industry. 

Blueflite was founded in 2018 and designs and manufactures advanced drone systems and software for an integrated approach to cargo delivery, with all-electrical drone design boasting vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities. 

How Blueflite has had to adapt as a drone start-up

Hoping to learn more about the company's journey, we asked James where Blueflite is now and what he hopes they can achieve over the next couple of years. 

James explains that the Michigan-based team started with a three-metre experimental aircraft, but soon realized as a start-up they were not able to make aircraft of that size. 

Instead, people became very interested when they began making smaller aircraft for development and engineering. Now, Blueflite has a one-metre, one-and-a-half-metre, and two-metre aircraft.

James went on to add “As a company, we have kind of followed where the customers were over the years. But we want to win and we want to survive. So we're being extremely laser-focused on the one-and-a-half meter aircraft that you guys have been supporting us on as well, and finishing that product. People like the product and take that to the end.” 

As well as the hardware, Blueflite also has a range of digital products to enable drone operators to maximize their efficiency and operate in challenging environments. 

blueDigital is a cloud-based productivity tool, blueControl, which offers full functionality over the Blueflite drone including mission planning, control, and vehicle monitoring. bluePilot, an onboard autopilot is paired with blueBrain, a flight control system featuring Machine Learning, to carry out the most complex of missions. Blueflite also offers blueDelivery, an app that allows customers to place orders to be delivered by drone.

Over the last year, Blueflite has showcased how commercial its products are with several exciting wins.

What to expect from Blueflite’s drones

James explains the build of their current drone offering, outlining that fundamentally the drones boast a quad-independent tilt rotor. Putting the propellers on the corners gives increased torque ability on the aircraft for heavy lift in urban environments. 

The biggest configuration distinction is wings or no wings. The decision relies upon the priority of speed, payload, or distance.

James outlined that with no wings “you’re not going to go as far but still you get the agility and the performance of the aircraft, but you’re not going to go as far as if you have the wing version, but for the lighter loads and when you want to go further distance, you give up some of the payload to put the wings on”.

2023 winners of the world’s largest UAS accelerator, GENIUS NY

Last October, Blueflite was the grand prize winner of the GENIUS NY, the world’s UAS accelerator, winning $1 million thanks to its patented all-electrical drone design which meets the rigorous demands of commercial operations. 

The Blueflite team has already partnered with previous GENIUS NY partners including Wonder Robotics who they teamed up with to launch delivery drones, as well as AVSS whom Blueflite has partnered with to boost innovation and drone safety by integrating a state-of-the-art parachute system.

Creating drones with both certification and customer in mind

Talking about the design process, and where certification fits in, we asked James when he believes the product will be fully finished. 

James hopes that in 2024, Blueflite will have an aircraft that they will be able “to stick with for the near future”. One thing the CTO believes makes Blueflite unique is its flexibility when it comes to different components of its product. 

We asked how this can be accommodated from a certification perspective. James explained how Blueflite leverages 3D printing for quick manufacture and interchangeability of non-structural components whilst remaining consistent with the base airframe and base carbon fuselage, to maintain a solid base configuration that can be certifiable with multiple payload options.

Is consolidation in the future for the drone industry? 

As drone companies began to mature, we asked James about the future of the industry and whether he was optimistic about its success. 

James believes that the industry is definitely going to succeed in becoming a fully-fledged industry, but thinks that the challenge lies in being able to navigate the next couple of years and survive. 

It’s not just a case of having customers who really like what you’re doing and your products on offer, but companies need capital. James explained: “You need capital and you need people to do that. And if there’s no capital market, it’s very tough.” 

Building automotive reliability into Blueflite’s drones

With a background in high-volume manufacturing, James understands what it takes to make a “credible, reliable product”. 

We commented that James’ experience with Toyota is interesting because of the reliability of their vehicles, many of them from twenty years ago still being around today. This led to a discussion on how James’ automotive experience transferred into the drone world.

James added: “We know what it takes. You have to put in the work, but if you want to make a reliable product, you really need to test it, you need to validate it all the way down to the component level. And being from the auto industry, people don't think that's cool or sexy, but it brings a lot of rigor to your understanding of how to make a mechanical system.”

About Blueflite

Blueflite is designing and manufacturing a cargo drone platform to solve modern-day challenges in the logistics industry. Blueflite’s drones offer faster and greener deliveries at a lower cost compared to conventional transport. The unique and patent pending tiltrotor design features vectored thrust giving it unrivalled maneuverability and the ability to operate under challenging conditions. The digital element of the platform allows for integration into an all-automated supply chain for high-speed deliveries at scale.

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