What sparked your interest in starting a drone company?
I had two passions growing up. One was creating things that didn’t yet exist, and the other was flying. I started flying when I was about 10 years old; I started just with RC planes and helicopters, eventually transitioned into drones, became a test pilot for a drone company and then, in high school, started building my own platforms and creating new things. Ultimately, I had the idea for Teal (which in hindsight was a little naïve — to try and build a world-leading drone company!). But here we are today 8 years later, working hard to become just that.
What products does Red Cat currently have on offer?
Teal was the fourth acquisition by Red Cat, and the rest of its portfolio includes Fat Shark, Rotor Riot and Skypersonic. Fat Shark and Rotor Riot are consumer oriented around FPV drones, racing and virtual reality. Red Cat recently announced that it is going to be selling off the consumer division of its company and focusing on enterprise and defense, which includes Teal and Skypersonic. Teal is focused on short-range reconnaissance and ISR-type use cases with its current product, the Teal 2. The Teal 2 is a dual-use product — we use it for defense as well as for public safety, for inspections and other commercial-use cases. And Skypersonic is a company that builds caged small drones that are able to fly in tight indoor spaces, which also opens up the door to a lot of interesting use cases.
Can you provide an insight into the civil and defense segments of the drone market? What are their key differences?
Demand for drones has been going up across both civil and defense sectors. Drones are now vital to national security, which is apparent based on everything we’re seeing in Ukraine. The government is increasing its investments into the domestic industrial base, allowing it to grow and ultimately compete globally. Most of the investment happening right now is in defense, which is where Teal is focused and believes it can have the biggest impact. The Teal 2 is primarily defense focused but is also a dual-use product. We are beginning to penetrate some civil segments too, including public safety, land management, wildlife conservation and infrastructure inspections. What’s cool about a lot of these use cases is that the requirements overlap a large amount, though every use case does have its unique requirements. And with Teal’s best-in-class payload and modularity, we can support a lot of these use cases with a single product.
Red Cat’s new Teal 2 military-grade drone caught our interest. Can you explain its importance and its potential?
We believe we have a great product — it has a best-in-class sensor payload designed to dominate the night. It’s highly modular, meaning every part of the drone can be replaced in the field or upgraded over time, and it’s also very interoperable with other technologies. We have publicly talked about a few of Red Cat’s and Teal’s partnerships to extend the capability of the Teal 2, a few of which are Reveal technology, which allows us to do near real-time 3D photogrammetry, and Athena AI, which enables some really powerful artificial intelligence capabilities at the tactical edge. The Teal 2 is a big step in the right direction for the U.S. to rebuild its industrial base and begin to close the gap with capabilities we see coming out of China.
Can you elaborate on the technologies that you are working on and the industries you serve?
While we are very interoperable and modular, across our hardware and software, we are quite vertically integrated. This means that our engineering and manufacturing teams span every engineering discipline related to drones. In terms of technology, we’re working on everything from the payload to the propulsion and to the full integration of all the rest of the subsystems, most of which are designed internally. More broadly, what we’re trying to do is not just build a drone, but build a drone factory. What we’re proving out now is the ability to manufacture this type of product at high quantities to support the demand we’re seeing across the board domestically and internationally. The reason for our focus on vertical integration is to be able to build a competitive product at a lower cost than we could otherwise, and then be able to scale that to high volume in our factory.
How do you see Red Cat’s innovations shaping the future of warfare?
What we’re hearing from many sources who have been in Ukraine and who have seen how drones are being deployed, is that the invention of the drone is as impactful as the invention of the machine gun in the late 1800s. I’m specifically talking about this category of drone, which is a short-range UAS meant to be deployed on the frontline, at the tactical edge, and is a game changer in the process of war (known as the kill chain). We believe a big part of the future of this technology is being able to responsibly deliver kinetic effects — or, in other words, weaponizing drones — which we believe is going to be a necessary part of the future. The ultimate goal is to build an asymmetric advantage over our competition, create a strategic deterrence to future conflict, but win if our soldiers are ever called to fight.
Do you hope that your work will inspire other drone-preneurs to continue innovating unmanned vehicles?
I think there’s huge opportunity in the drone industry. We’re just getting started. There are going to be so many interesting needs for drones moving forward, and I don’t think a single company in America is going to be able to fulfill all of it. So I certainly encourage anyone who is passionate about the drone industry, or feels some sense of purpose around it, to do it.