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Terra Drone is a global drone services venture with the mission to ‘create the next industrial revolution from the sky.’ The company currently has offices in six countries: Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. As of October 2023, it is expanding its services to a total of 11 countries.
The current president founded the company in 2016 with the vision of creating a world-class organization. Leveraging rapid global expansion, the company aggressively expanded worldwide right from the start. In fact, within just six months of the company’s launch, the founder was already traveling around the world.
However, not everything went smoothly. The company initially chose Australia as its first destination due to demand in sectors like resource extraction, railroads, and pipelines, and the relatively low competition. Nevertheless, during that time, the company encountered challenges in gaining adoption for new products like drones and was forced to withdraw after approximately six months.
On the other hand, the company’s global expansion continued at an impressive pace. In March 2017, it established a base in Indonesia, focusing on providing support for 3D surveying, analysis, and modeling. In November 2018, the company acquired a Dutch company primarily serving the European industrial drone market. Today, this European subsidiary provides services, mainly to the oil industry.
Despite the ups and downs, the company has steadily built a successful global business. This track record led to a significant achievement in January 2023 when TerraDrone became the first Asian startup to secure 1.85 billion yen in funding from Wa’ed, the venture capital arm of Aramco, the world’s second-largest company by market capitalization. This brought the total amount raised to 12.66 billion yen.
Even after that, at Terra Drone, we haven’t slowed down our business expansion. We firmly believe in the critical role of Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) as infrastructure supporting the entire next-generation mobility industry, including drones and flying cars. We’ve been investing in Unifly, a leading flight operation management system provider, since 2016. In July 2023, UTM acquired Unifly as a subsidiary, further strengthening our position in the industry. In September of the same year, we expanded into the agricultural sector by acquiring the business of Avirtech, a leading drone pesticide spraying company with world-first technology, through our subsidiary in Indonesia.
These challenges we’ve taken on have propelled us to achieve the top position in the world in the Drone Service Providers Ranking by Drone Industry Insights in 2020 and maintain the second position for three consecutive years from 2021.
Can you elaborate on the technologies that you are working on and industries you serve?
Terra Drone currently operates in the following four businesses:
We develop and sell our own UAV laser drones (hardware) and software for surveying, and we provide services using these products. In addition to drones, we also offer services using the latest 3D surveying equipment.
Terra Drone develops UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) laser drones equipped with embedded LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology.
Terra Drone’s UAV laser drone offers the following key features:
Highly Accurate Surveying:
UAV drones equipped with LiDAR sensors can generate highly accurate 3D models of terrain, buildings, vegetation, and other objects. This capability provides precise information for land surveying and progress monitoring in construction projects.
Fast Data Collection:
UAV laser drones can cover extensive areas in a relatively short time, enabling rapid data collection and efficient operations.
Operation in Challenging Environments:
LiDAR technology enables precise data collection in challenging environments such as forests and tree plantations, as it can penetrate tree foliage and objects beneath the ground surface.
Data Analysis and Visualization:
Data collected by the UAV laser drone is presented in the form of maps, 3D models, and point cloud data for analysis and visualization using GIS (Geographic Information System) software.
Terra Drone’s UAV laser drones find diverse applications in land surveying, construction, environmental monitoring, forestry, mining, urban planning, and various other fields.
In the field of surveying, our company boasts a world-class track record with over 2,000 drone surveying and inspection projects completed, primarily for major general contractors and construction consultants.
We provide a range of solutions using our original UT drones for inspecting tanks, boilers, and other infrastructure facilities, primarily in the petrochemical industry. Our services encompass hardware and software development, as well as service provision.
Terra Drone has developed its own “UT Drone” equipped with an ultrasonic inspection function that enables thickness inspection without damaging the tank’s surface, a groundbreaking innovation in drone technology. This technology allows for actual thickness inspection and data analysis on the tank’s surface plates.
The use of non-destructive ultrasonic waves for plate thickness inspection offers the advantage of reducing the time typically required for erecting and dismantling temporary scaffolding for work at heights. This results in a 40-60% reduction in inspection time, leading to cost savings and minimizing facility downtime during inspections, thus reducing opportunity losses.
The use of UT drones allows for a remarkable reduction in costs and work time, approximately one-tenth of what conventional drones require. Deployment is rapidly accelerating, with successful inspections conducted at Europe’s largest oil refinery for Shell, as well as drone inspection demonstration tests with BASF, the world’s largest integrated chemical manufacturer, and INPEX in Japan, among other notable projects.
Also, our European subsidiary, Terra Inspectioneering, in collaboration with our partner, PowerFox in Australia, has achieved a significant milestone in the inspection industry by conducting a comprehensive visual inspection of the inside of a surge bin along with ultrasonic inspection. This achievement marks a world-first in inspection technology, promising enhanced safety, reduced downtime, and unparalleled efficiency for inspecting surge bin interiors.
We develop platforms for next-generation air mobility systems, which include drones and flying vehicles. Additionally, we conduct research to ensure the safe operation of next-generation air mobility systems.
Terra Drone has developed Terra UTM, a service for safely managing multiple UASOs (Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations). Terra UTM offers essential information for safe drone operations, including real-time data on both unmanned and manned aircraft, with a collision avoidance function that coordinates the movements of these aircraft.
Unifly, a group company, is a global leader in UTM installations, including at the national level. It has successfully established the UTM system in eight countries, including Canada, Spain, Germany, and Saudi Arabia.
Additionally, Terra Drone, in collaboration with Mitsui & Co., the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and Asahi Koyo Corporation, has been selected for the “Air Mobility Integrated Flight Operation Management Platform Project” in response to the public solicitation for Expo 2010 Osaka/Kansai.
We utilize our self-developed drones with groundbreaking technology for applying agricultural chemicals and fertilizers, as well as pest extermination. Additionally, we employ mapping drones for surveying farmland and analyzing weeds and crop abnormalities.
Furthermore, we have developed the world’s first gimbal-based spraying system, which offers high precision with an accuracy within a spray radius of 10 cm.
What is your biggest USP that differentiates the company from competitors?
We believe our USP lies in our holistic approach to next-generation air mobility. This approach encompasses comprehensive software development for drones and flying cars, hardware design and development, and the delivery of services and solutions using drones. Rather than isolating each component, we offer an integrated solution.
Another of our strengths is our multinational and diverse approach. By operating across multiple countries and embracing a variety of cultures, we accumulate a wealth of knowledge and accomplishments. This diversity enables us to harness our collective experiences and expertise in versatile ways, making our solutions more inclusive and globally relevant.
Terra Drone has been meeting and acquiring global drone companies since the early days of drone operations, gaining valuable insights into profitable industries and business models. This has resulted in the development of our new ventures, including tank inspection in geopolitical Europe, surveying in Japan, and pesticide spraying for palm oil production in Southeast Asia.
In the mid- to long-term, the company is also exploring the development of safe and efficient air infrastructure, such as UTM, and engaging in research and development of flying vehicles.
What are your predictions about the future of the drone industry and the advent of disruptive technologies?
We believe that drones will be increasingly regulated and evolved as hardware in the future.
As drones become even more popular, we believe that trends such as weight reduction of hardware, maximization of flight time, and price reduction will occur one after another, just like smartphones in the past. As this happens, there will be more and more things that can be done with drones.
We also believe that more drone flights will be conducted in urban areas in the future. At that time, UTMs will become indispensable as the infrastructure in the sky that we are currently focusing on, and we believe that their importance will attract more and more attention.
According to you, which is the biggest market for business concern? What are the other markets you are eyeing in the near future?
In the short term, we are focusing on the surveying and inspection areas where we are currently developing our business, and in the medium to long term, we are eyeing UTM, logistics, and flying cars.
What are your suggestions to youngsters/ entrepreneurs who wish to enter into the Drone Industry?
The drone and flying car-related industries are still in their infancy, but we firmly believe that the time will come when they will permeate the world and become commonplace. Therefore, it’s crucial to persevere, stay committed, and adapt to evolving technology and major trends.