Q/A with Chris McCall, CEO of Fotokite
"We’re super grateful to be involved. It’s a no-brainer for us to be here."
Team Size: 12 (from 8 different countries)
Focus: Hardware and Data Management
Describe your team in a few words and emojis?
Deep domain expertise
Tell me about Fotokite?
We make a camera crane that can reach up to 300 ft. in the air that packs up in the size of a carry-on suitcase. Instead of flying freely, our drone stays tethered to a ground station. We use our patented algorithms to make a drone estimate its position and localize itself based off of tension from a tether, not based on things like GPS or optical sensors.
Our company was founded based off PhD work at ETH Zurich and University of Zurich. It’s a total hot bed of aerial robotics research and a great breeding ground with lots of drone startups spinning off. The idea started gaining early traction and then more talent jumped on board. We’re still based in Zurich because we constantly attract highly skilled technical talent coming out of the universities who already specialize in aerial robotics space.
What problem are you solving?
In the commercial drone space there’s been a hold up in that commercial drones can’t fly for very long, they’re not always safe to use, especially in cities and over crowds of people, and have been heavily regulated as a result. We address those fundamental roadblocks of using traditional drones in order to enable more practical and realistic use of everyday unmanned robotics in the real world.
Core competencies on our team ultimately come down to the ability to understand an industry’s needs and requirements and make a very focused solution to help solve the problems they are facing. Once we really understand the use case, our talented embedded and controls engineering create very well characterized flight systems which then deliver valuable data to our customers on-site and remotely.
We understand that many commercial users don’t really want to learn how to fly a drone. They want the data that comes from drones, so if they can buy a system, service or product where the only interaction that they ever have is they press a button, then that’s a good product. We try to deliver and strive for that.
Who are your customers?
Our customers are phenomenal, some of which include CNN, BBC, Tribune Media, and professional sports teams. We have delivered over a thousand systems so far world-wide and learned a ton by doing that both in terms of technology but also what customers want. We’ve been delighted learning alongside these customers by being very active in early deployments and frequent communications on what’s working or not working for them.
Why are you excited about GENIUS NY?
I think there’s quite a few collaboration partners to work with, but also a big, big learning opportunity for us as a young company. The program will help us get up to speed on what we need to grow and be a major player both in the U.S. and internationally. So far we’ve been blown away by the tremendous support of the team and program here. The more we spend time here, the more we’re impressed by the focus on pushing the entire UAS ecosystem forward.
First impressions of Syracuse?
I get a really strong sense of community here, which is always attractive whether you are a company or individual. I’m also impressed by the area in general. There’s a lot to offer everyone and you can see that people are generally proud to be part of pushing this new chapter in Central New York.
What are you most looking forward to while staying in Syracuse?
From a business perspective, I’m looking forward to learning more about the talent pool here in Syracuse and the surrounding area. We’ve been looking at building up a team in the U.S. and it’ll be important to attract experience and talent from the start.
From a lifestyle perspective, it’s neat to be in a place like Syracuse because there’s so much around it that you can go to and a lot of diversity in that respect. Actually it’s a lot like Switzerland in that regard, you’ve got Germany to the north or France to the west, Italy to the south or Austria to the east. Here you get places like Niagara Falls or New York City or over to the Adirondacks. It’s the same principle, you’re surrounded by a lot of beautiful things… it’s just a matter of taking the time to explore them.
How many drones do you own?
The only one I own is a Fotokite.
What would you do with the $1 million grand prize?
I think it’s important for us especially as we establish really incredible customers here that we can support them. We want to develop additional business here in the U.S. and to do that we need a U.S. location, office and people on the ground here supporting those customers.
The most clear action item is to open up a sales and business development office. I think another thing that’s really exciting for me to explore is looking at the possibility of having an American-made product manufactured here!