Success stories

The drama of drones

open this image in new window: UAV Drone

From movies to defence and 3D noise maps, drone technology firm Dotterel is scaling as its clients find more uses for little flying machines.

At a glance

  • Dotterel’s noise reducing and audio recording technology is being used in the screen and defence industries, and for noise mapping of industrial sites.

  • Drones are becoming more prevalent in our communities but the noise they make is a problem.

  • Dotterel’s technology ‘takes the drone out of drones’ and equips them with microphones so they can be used to capture audio.

  • As drone technology explodes, New Zealand’s user-friendly regulations could make it the UAV testing site of the world.

The sky is literally the limit for drone technology and Kiwi startup Dotterel is flying high.

Uses for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are growing exponentially. From security to logistics to flying taxis, the future is likely to include a proliferation of drones buzzing above our heads.

This creates a key challenge that Dotterel is focused on. Drones are noisy, and as they become more and more prevalent in our communities it’s inevitable operators will be forced to meet noise reduction standards. Conversely, solving the noise issue means they can be put to further uses such as recording audio.

Dotterel’s founders foresaw this when they emerged from Callaghan Innovation’s C-Prize in 2016. The competition challenged drone and screen industry players to come up with a prototype UAV that could overcome obstacles limiting their use in film and television – one of those being rotor noise.

Two-and-a-half years on and Dotterel has made huge strides with its nanofibre acoustic shrouds, which significantly reduce the tonal noise from rotor blades.

It’s also well on the way with its sound recording technology, developing microphone arrays which can capture audio from airborne drones.

The applications are many and varied. Dotterel works with Australian company Resonate Acoustics using drones to build 3D noise maps of industrial sites, to help businesses meet regulatory requirements.

“Up until now they’ve been doing noise mapping by getting people to go up on cherry pickers and take multiple data points,” Chief Operating Officer Shaun Edlin says.

“At the moment our microphone array is quite large and clunky, and we’re working with audio expert Mark Poletti at Callaghan Innovation’s Gracefield Innovation Quarter on miniaturising the equipment.”

Cinematography has always been Dotterel’s primary target market, he says. “Drone noise creates a significant disturbance on set, and you also can’t capture audio from them.

Shaun Edlin - Dotterel
Shaun Edlin, Chief Operating Officer, Dotterel

“We’re currently doing some exciting work in the film industry.”

The other significant market for Dotterel is defence, particularly in the US and Australia, Shaun says.

“At the moment small drones are too loud for use in stealth operations, so our technology is being utilised to overcome this problem.”

Dotterel’s model is to be a bespoke designer of noise reduction and audio recording technology, and to reach licensing agreements for the manufacture of the equipment. It is scaling the business with direct input from the market and customers, the founders say.

It’s unsurprising New Zealand is starting to see overseas UAV companies conducting research and development here, such as Kitty Hawk which is testing an electric, self-pilot flying taxi in the South Island, Shaun says. This country’s regulations are conducive to drone research being undertaken here.

“There’s a real opportunity for New Zealand to become a hotbed of drone R&D,” Shaun says. “We could become the UAV test site of the world.”

Updated: 3 July 2018