CHETICAMP — The third prototype from the burgeoning drone-maker SkySquirrel Technologies Inc. could be on the market as early as next winter, according to one of three business partners involved in the venture.
The Inverness-based company has been focusing on introducing a light-weight drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle as it’s called in high-tech circles, to the agricultural sector and to search and rescue associations.
Stéphane Sogne said the idea is to simplify the mechanics to make a drone so easy to fly that it could be “something grandma can operate.”
“The goal is to have a fully working prototype ready for June or July. At the end of the year we should have the actual product we want to sell,” he said.
While the company has office space above The Oran weekly newspaper in Inverness, the workshop and test site are located in an unmarked warehouse in Cheticamp.
Sogne, 34, is the company's director of engineering and comes with a broad range of experiences, including five years of design experience in the Swiss watch industry where he is listed on more than 10 patents in micro-mechanics, tribology and composite material applications.
His partners are Richard Van der Put, who heads research and development, and Tim Stekkinger, president of SkySquirrel.
Their focus started on aerial photography but soon realized it could benefit other areas, particularly among farmers.
“By carrying a special camera, like an infrared camera, we can take a picture of a field and we can accurately map the field. We can create a report indicating where the field needs more water, fertilizer, or where there may be some stress in the plants,” Sogne said.
There are the obvious military and surveillance capabilities available. It’s an area Sogne is hesitant to take the technology, and SkySquirrel officially steers clear of the word "drone" because of its “military connotation,” he said.
However, Sogne did acknowledge their prototype has gained interest from military contractors. He wouldn’t say which companies have expressed interest in their work.
“For now, we’d like to stay away from that (business). The main thing is from an ethical point of view. We really don’t want to put a gun on the drone.”
Many people would be familiar with the U.S. military use of drones as part of the war on terrorism.
The RCMP credited the use of a drone in a recent successful search for a missing hiker in British Columbia. The national police force also issued a tender for the purchase of five such drones.
Up until recently, Sogne worked at Mabou tech company Halifax Biomedical. SkySquirrel developed as a side project two years ago but has since grown to become a full-time preoccupation.
The company caught the attention of Enterprise Cape Breton Corp. last year.
It awarded the firm with a $200,000 repayable loan to develop a working prototype of a generic unmanned aerial surveillance vehicle and a fully operational and tested prototype.
Why Sogne, who’s originally from France, ended up living and working in Inverness County, it has to do with some travel and a little romance.
While backpacking from Newfoundland to Cape Breton, Sogne discovered Cheticamp. The Acadian language and culture enchanted him, and so did a woman who became his partner.
They now have two young children and have settled into parenthood in Cheticamp.
While success in business is important to Sogne, so is having a good quality of life.
“I’m a sailor, too, so I love the ocean. For me, just the fact that I can work close to the ocean, I can see the mountains. There’s no pollution, no smog, no traffic. It’s so important.”