Jacob Voorhees hadn’t always pictured himself starting a drone company in Canada.
But what the 2009 University of Delaware engineering grad did always have was an interest in transportation and video data collection.
While at UD, the native of Kennedyville, Md., worked with professor Jack Puleo on a video-based traffic data project. After graduation, he worked on a similar project at the University of Wisconsin; then he took an engineering position in Chicago for a Canadian firm.
"Numerous engineering fields require aerial perspectives for added or enhanced information."
In 2013, Voorhees, 27, moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, and a year later, started Sky Capture, which provides aerial photography and video to a range of clients.
We spoke with Voorhees about how he got started, what his company does and the stark difference between how the U.S. and Canada view drones and the laws surrounding them.
“Amazon wants to deliver packages with drones, Google wants to provide internet, Domino’s wants to deliver pizzas,” Voorhees said. “The U.S. government wants none of it.”
What’s the story behind Sky Capture?
I started Sky Capture last summer, July 2014. Sky Capture is an independent venture, with no employees in the literal sense. I share the vision with a colleague and business partner who is a bridge inspector, and my acting co-pilot and camera operator during flight operations. I also may work with other UAV pilots who use their own equipment. One of our videos was featured on the manufacturer’s showcase.
Numerous engineering fields require aerial perspectives for added or enhanced information, which benefits professional judgement.
Agencies have been known to send engineers up in small air planes or helicopters to photograph various thing. One example is traffic jams — we would say “long highway queues” at my company. These views are desired but typically expensive. I knew there was a better way, and after investigating and exploring some options, I realized how viable using a UAV really was.
It’s really fantastic because Canada has embraced the growth of these aerial technologies. UAVs have been allowed for commercial use for years, being way ahead of the U.S. in the drone sector.
What is the mission of Sky Capture and what are the company’s goals?
To provide aerial video and photography services in the Vancouver metropolitan area to engineering and construction industries along with several other sectors.
Goals include: capture market share in predominantly these focus areas, continue to upgrade equipment, potentially expand business reach and begin conducting consulting services including coaching/instructing/conducting talks regarding various UAV knowledge areas.
"The FAA and overall governing bodies for such regulation have fully ignored the progression of this technology."
Also, I’m striving for a blanket permit for all of BC. This would allow freedom to take on jobs quickly and with short turnaround, whereas today there is quite a delayed wait for the existing system. It takes up to 30 days for an application to be processed. Slow to start, but it runs here.
Talk about the differences in how the U.S. and Canada view drones and the laws surrounding them.
It’s unlike back home in America. There in the U.S., only 24 companies in the entire country have been given “special permission.” The FAA and overall governing bodies for such regulation have fully ignored the progression of this technology. So much so that literally a small $500 very popular model quadcopter drone was accidentally crash-landed on the White House lawn. There’s no legislation on how anything should be done, whether it be criminal or permission granting.
In America if you say “drone,” you are inviting one of those conversations like “oh, my privacy is already ruined with my credit cards and my cell phone, why do I want to be spied on by a drone?” And sure you can hear them fly, people say they sound like bees (whatever, though), but no one is spying on anyone.
The only thing I’ll say that does really bad for the drone industry is when inexperienced or high-risk fliers conduct operations around crowds or people in general. Consider anything mechanical, such as an airplane or a car. Things can go wrong. A UAV is no different. Some companies fly $50k+ rigs with really expensive cameras. They sometimes have two parachutes on the entire system in case it flies away or drops. Two parachutes!
Here [in Canada] the system has been stable for a while yet still growing rapidly, especially right now. For a while, Canadians have been apply to just apply for permitting, or a special flight operations certificate (SFOC) in order to conduct commercial operations. Hobbyists are legal and not regulated. My SFOC document submissions are are 30 pages, and you need one for each commercial operation. You work your way to a blanket permit. Anyway, it requires insurance, safety plans, flight plan, all the necessary procedures and required equipment for securing the operation in general, preparation for an incident or emergency yet doing everything possible to eliminate the changes of one happening. What is done in an emergency? What is adequate weather to fly in? What airspace are you in? What radio frequencies should you be monitoring with your VHF aircraft radio. I went to a UAV Ground School held by the Canada Centre for Unmanned Vehicles Systems and obtained a radio license here as well. Things like this aid in the application process.
What’s next for you and your company?
Hopefully a dry and clear warm summer here in Vancouver. Pictures look the best with a bright, clear sky. I will continue to see where I can take this project.