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Swiss-made drone in action worldwide: Fotokite's Tethered UAVs elevate public safety globally

23.05.2024

Amidst the technological buzz at Amsterdam Drone Week 2024, Eszter Kovács, co-founder and CEO of DroneTalks, sat down with Thomas Dassler, the Sales Director for the Middle East and Asia at Fotokite. This discussion offered profound insights into Fotokite's unique tethered UAVs, their strategic expansion into new markets, and the evolving landscape of drone utilization in public safety sectors. The solution manufactured in Zurich, Switzerland, the country synonymous with precision and quality, Fotokite leverages these national hallmarks to enhance their UAV technology, ensuring that each unit meets the highest standards of reliability and efficiency essential for emergency and public safety applications. This commitment to Swiss quality helps set Fotokite apart in the competitive field of UAV solutions, providing first responders around the globe with a dependable tool that they can trust in critical situations.

Fotokite: A pioneer in tethered UAV technology

Fotokite, a Zurich-based company, stands out in the drone industry by designing and manufacturing actively tethered UAVs, called the Fotokite Sigma. These UAVs are designed for continuous operation, providing public safety teams with critical situational awareness without the complexities of traditional drone piloting.

The system comprises two main components: the Ground Station and the Kite, which are operated through the Fotokite Live app on a rugged tablet or computer that displays thermal and low-light video streams. These streams deliver actionable intelligence throughout missions, enhancing the decision-making capabilities of public safety teams.

Upon arriving at an incident scene, Fotokite Sigma can be deployed instantly with a hands-free, automatic launch sequence activated by a single button push. The rugged tablet connects automatically and begins displaying aerial intelligence in real-time, allowing teams to adjust the camera view or deployment height with simple swiping gestures. This immediate and persistent aerial overview provides invaluable situational awareness that is crucial during emergencies.

Fotokite Sigma offers significant advantages for public safety missions, primarily by improving the safety, efficiency, and simplicity of operations. It deploys at the push of a button without requiring setup time, calibration, or piloting, and can reach heights of up to 45 meters (150 feet). The system’s integration into a vehicle’s power supply ensures it can operate continuously for 24 hours or as long as the mission requires. Its IP55 rating confirms its readiness to perform in adverse weather conditions, including rain, snow, and wind, ensuring reliability when it matters most.

The technical specifications of Fotokite Sigma include a 24-hour flight time, thermal and RGB cameras with advanced zoom and resolution capabilities, and a lightweight carbon fiber frame that is robust yet easy to handle. The system is available in three configurations—Rooftop Box, Transport Case, and Tray Mount—to accommodate different operational needs and deployment scenarios.

Fotokite Sigma serves as a crucial tool in various public safety scenarios by delivering elevated situational awareness essential for first responder teams. 

Use cases where Fotokite Sigma proves invaluable:

  • Fire Response: It enables firefighters to safely size up rooftops for hot spots, effectively visualize and direct hose lines, or gain a critical perspective on the front-line of forest fires. Its one-button activation eliminates the need for piloting, allowing teams to focus on the task at hand without drawing resources away from crucial firefighting efforts.
  • Search and Rescue (SAR) Missions: In SAR operations, immediate aerial situational awareness can significantly enhance the efficiency of search efforts. Fotokite Sigma provides a rapid, comprehensive overview of the scene, helping to detect and direct resources more effectively. Its quick scanning capabilities are particularly useful in large area searches, providing crucial information swiftly when every second counts.
  • Post-Fire Inspection and Monitoring: After a fire has been contained, continuous monitoring is critical to detect any flare-ups. It’s tethered system allows for prolonged thermal imaging from above, easily identifying heat concentration points without the need for battery changes or active piloting throughout the hours of incident response and post-response operations.
  • Public Safety and Security: For everyday emergency response coordination, it can be deployed instantly and hands-free, making it ideal for on-scene response and post-scene documentation. Its ability to quickly provide a comprehensive view of the area enhances situational awareness and helps coordinate efforts more effectively.
  • Traffic Management: During traffic incidents, quick and reliable assessment of traffic flow and bottlenecks is essential. Fotokite Sigma can be deployed from the safety and convenience of a vehicle, providing aerial views that help in managing and resolving traffic issues promptly.
  • Infrastructure and Event Security: It’s also beneficial for security applications, whether mounted on security vehicles or installed as a remote deployable asset. It fits well with security site inspections and ongoing monitoring tasks, providing persistent aerial surveillance that enhances security at events, construction sites, and other critical infrastructure locations.

Each of these use cases demonstrates Fotokite Sigma’s ability to provide reliable and efficient aerial perspectives, drastically improving the operational capabilities of first responders and public safety professionals. The system’s ease of use, safety features, and robust performance make it a preferred choice for a wide range of critical applications.

Switzerland: a melting pot of innovation and quality

Switzerland, known globally for its picturesque landscapes and high quality of life, also stands as a capital of innovation, particularly in technology, pharmaceuticals, and precision engineering. Renowned for its meticulous attention to detail and high-quality standards, Switzerland's legacy in innovation is deeply rooted in a robust educational system, a strong legal framework, and substantial investment in research and development.

Switzerland's commitment to innovation is underpinned by its world-class universities and research institutions, including ETH Zurich and EPFL Lausanne, which are consistently ranked among the top global universities for science and engineering. These institutions not only provide a fertile ground for cutting-edge research but also collaborate closely with industries to ensure that scientific discoveries are translated into practical applications.

The Swiss government fosters an environment conducive to innovation through policies that encourage investment in technology and a legal framework that protects intellectual property rights. Switzerland's unique position in Europe, being centrally located but not a member of the European Union, allows it flexibility in crafting policies that cater specifically to the needs of high-tech industries.

Switzerland's prowess in innovation is not unnoticed on the global stage. It has been consistently ranked as the most innovative country in the world by the Global Innovation Index, a testament to its strengths in creating and sustaining an environment where innovation can thrive. This includes outstanding scores in areas such as patent applications, high-tech manufacturing, and export sophistication.

Beyond local advancements, Switzerland is home to numerous multinational corporations that benefit from Switzerland’s stable economic policies, skilled workforce, and strong global connections.

Fotokite and Switzerland: a synergy of precision and innovation

Fotokite, headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, embodies the nation's long-standing reputation for precision engineering and innovation. Switzerland's commitment to high-quality manufacturing and technology makes it an ideal base for Fotokite's pioneering developments in tethered UAV technology. This strategic location provides Fotokite not only with access to world-class technical expertise but also positions it within a framework that supports and drives technological advancements.

Switzerland is globally recognized for its meticulous attention to detail and quality. Fotokite leverages this Swiss precision in every aspect of its design and manufacturing processes. The company's flagship product, the Fotokite Sigma, is crafted to meet stringent safety and performance standards, which are synonymous with Swiss manufacturing ethos. This commitment to quality ensures that each unit is reliable, durable, and meets the high expectations of first responders and public safety teams worldwide.

Zurich, as a hub of technological innovation, provides a fertile ground for Fotokite’s R&D activities. The proximity to top-tier research institutions and a thriving tech startup scene fuels continuous innovation and improvement of Fotokite products. This environment fosters collaborations that enhance product capabilities, ensuring that Fotokite remains at the cutting edge of UAV technology.

Switzerland's progressive approach to drone regulation and its central location in Europe offer strategic advantages for Fotokite. The Swiss regulatory framework is supportive of UAV innovations, allowing Fotokite to test and refine its systems effectively. Moreover, being based in Switzerland facilitates easier access to European markets, aiding Fotokite’s expansion efforts and allowing it to respond swiftly to the demands of its diverse European clientele.

By adhering to both Swiss and international standards, Fotokite ensures that its products can be deployed globally without compatibility or regulatory issues. This adherence not only underscores Fotokite's commitment to quality and safety but also enhances its reputation as a dependable provider of critical public safety solutions.

Fotokite’s Swiss roots play a critical role in its success and influence its operations, from production practices to strategic market expansions. The synergy between Swiss precision and Fotokite’s innovative approach continues to set new standards in the UAV industry, making a significant impact on global public safety operations.

Securing Series B financing

On April 11, 2024, in Zurich, Switzerland, Fotokite announced the successful closure of its latest Series B financing round, securing CHF 10 million ($11 million). This significant investment, led by Carbyne Equity Partners alongside contributions from existing investors Swisscanto Private Equity Growth I and Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Capital Ltd., marks a pivotal moment in Fotokite's journey to enhance its global footprint and technological advancements.

This influx of capital will accelerate Fotokite's growth, bolstering its research and development efforts and expanding its operations worldwide. Fotokite is dedicated to enhancing its pioneering tethered drone technology, which is crucial for emergency response teams. The funding will enable the company to refine product features, expand its public safety customer base, and explore new market opportunities.

The investment supports Fotokite's ongoing expansion, which now extends its operational reach across six continents. This global presence underscores Fotokite's commitment to providing first responders with cutting-edge aerial surveillance tools that enhance situational awareness, streamline operations, and save lives during critical emergencies.

Bart Slager, CEO of Fotokite, expressed his enthusiasm for the new funding: "We are thrilled to announce the successful completion of our latest funding round, which marks a significant milestone for our company. This investment underscores the confidence in our vision and the value of our autonomous solutions for first responders. With our expanded resources and global reach, we are poised to make an even greater impact in helping emergency response teams save lives and protect communities around the world."

Carbyne Equity Partners, a private equity firm focusing on growing businesses in security technology and other sectors, values Fotokite's innovative technology and leadership, seeing great potential in its international commercialization. Swisscanto, a prominent fund provider in Switzerland, and Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Capital Ltd., a subsidiary of Credit Suisse AG, both support Fotokite's mission with capital, expertise, and international networking opportunities to foster further growth and market penetration.

Profitability and sales trends: expanding Horizons

Fotokite’s Swiss heritage plays a significant role in the company’s global strategy. This reputation for quality greatly enhances customer trust and positions Fotokite favorably against competitors, particularly in new and emerging markets.

The expanding adoption of Fotokite across various regions is exemplified by its widespread use among prominent first responder teams globally. These include some of the world's most recognized fire departments and rescue services, underscoring the system's reliability and effectiveness in critical situations.

Prominent users of Fotokite:

  • Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), USA: Known for its comprehensive emergency response capabilities, LAFD utilizes Fotokite to enhance its aerial situational awareness during fire responses and rescue operations.
  • Paris Fire Brigade, France: One of the largest firefighting units in Europe, the Paris Fire Brigade deploys Fotokite for a variety of operations, leveraging its quick deployment capability for efficient incident management.
  • New York Fire Department (FDNY), USA: FDNY, renowned for its significant operational demands, relies on Fotokite to provide rapid and reliable aerial views, crucial for both firefighting and complex urban rescue missions.
  • Zurich Fire & Rescue, Switzerland: In the heart of Fotokite's home country, Zurich Fire & Rescue uses the technology to support their operations, benefiting from the UAV's ability to operate in diverse weather conditions.
  • Chicago Fire Department, USA: Chicago's firefighters employ Fotokite to gain an aerial advantage in dense urban environments, aiding in both fire suppression and emergency medical services.
  • Milan Fire Brigade, Italy: Milan's brigade uses Fotokite to enhance their capability in fire response and emergency scenarios throughout the busy metropolitan area and surrounding regions.
  • City of Ottawa Fire Service, Canada: Ottawa's service integrates Fotokite into their operational protocols to improve safety and efficiency during fire responses and large public event security.
  • Geneva Fire & Rescue, Switzerland: This team leverages Fotokite for its swift deployment and reliability, ensuring quick situational assessments in emergencies.
  • Cornwall Fire & Rescue Service, UK: In the rural and coastal areas of Cornwall, Fotokite supports firefighters with enhanced aerial views that guide strategic decision-making during incidents.
  • Innherred Fire & Rescue, Norway: This Norwegian service utilizes Fotokite to navigate the challenges of responding in varied landscapes, from urban centers to remote areas.

The integration of Fotokite into these distinguished services demonstrates not only the versatility and reliability of the system but also Fotokite’s commitment to supporting first responders globally. By equipping these teams with advanced tools like Fotokite, they are better prepared to handle emergencies efficiently and safely, ultimately saving lives and protecting property. This widespread adoption also reflects positively on Fotokite's strategic expansion efforts into new international markets, ensuring that the company remains at the forefront of UAV technology within public safety sectors.

The company's push into the Middle East and Asian markets comes as a response to growing international demand and the potential to scale operations sustainably.

Thomas shared insights into Fotokite's deliberate and measured approach to entering Asian markets like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Thailand. Collaborating with strong local partners and conducting extensive market research and demonstrations has allowed Fotokite to adapt and cater to the unique needs of these diverse markets. The company's presence at international trade shows and direct engagement with local first responders have been pivotal in understanding and penetrating these regions.

Regulatory dynamics and future prospects

During the interview, Thomas highlighted the evolving regulatory landscape surrounding drone technology, which is a pivotal aspect of Fotokite's global expansion and operational strategy, particularly in regions like Asia. He shared his optimistic view regarding the proactive stance of civil aviation authorities across the globe. These authorities are increasingly engaged in understanding and accommodating new UAV technologies within their regulatory frameworks.

Key points on regulatory landscape and authority engagement:

Thomas noted that civil aviation authorities are not merely reacting to the advancements in drone technology but are actively seeking to comprehend its capabilities and implications. This proactive approach facilitates a more informed and effective regulatory process that can keep pace with technological innovation.

The collaboration between UAV companies like Fotokite and regulatory bodies is crucial. Such partnerships help ensure that new technologies are safely integrated into national airspace systems. Thomas emphasized that ongoing dialogues between these entities are vital for aligning technological capabilities with safety and operational guidelines.

As UAV technologies continue to evolve, regulators are tasked with updating and adapting their policies to address new operational realities. Thomas expressed confidence in the authorities' commitment to this task, which is essential for ensuring that UAVs can be deployed effectively and safely in public safety roles without unnecessary delays.

The optimistic view shared by Thomas also extends to the development of global standards and practices for UAV operations. With many countries looking towards a unified approach to drone regulation, there is potential for more streamlined processes and easier international deployment of UAV technologies like those offered by Fotokite.

Furthermore, Thomas pointed out that many civil aviation authorities are not only updating regulations but also investing in educational efforts to raise awareness among UAV operators and the general public. This is crucial for ensuring that the integration of drones into public and civil domains is met with informed acceptance and compliance.

In concluding the interview, Thomas advocated for more streamlined regulations that support the unique needs of first responders. By enhancing dialogue between drone manufacturers and regulatory bodies, there can be a better alignment of technological capabilities with operational and safety standards, ultimately benefiting public safety missions worldwide.

Fotokite's journey from a Zurich-based startup to a key player in the global drone industry underscores the transformative potential of UAV technology in public safety and beyond. As they expand into new markets with a focus on operational excellence and regulatory compliance, Fotokite continues to set the bar high for innovation and reliability in the UAV sector.

Eszter and Thomas’s discussion at Amsterdam Drone Week highlights the dynamic interplay between innovation, market expansion, and regulatory adaptation in the drone industry. To stay updated on the latest developments and insights from leaders in drone technology, follow DroneTalks online and engage with our content to support and drive the conversation forward.

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