KY SBIR/STTR MATCH AWARDEES: Dr. Hailiang Zhang
Describe your SBIR/STTR project and what your company does or will do?
The aim of this project is to design and build an autonomous flying drone that can search the area around an airfield for the nests of problematic bird species and apply a spray coating of oil. The oil prevents the eggs from hatching, over time reducing the number of birds in the region, and ultimately reducing the number of damaging or fatal aircraft strikes.
Our company (Hitron Technologies) is focused fully on research and development of new, practical technology products. Sometimes this means inventing and developing entirely new technologies; sometimes, as in this project, it means improving existing technologies or combining them in new ways.
What is innovative about your SBIR/STTR project?
The entire project is innovative. Autonomous flying drones are far from common. Autonomous drones with neural-network empowered object recognition are rarer still. And drones that perform egg oiling have only ever been produced by a single company – and that company is subcontracted on this project. The combination of these working parts represents not only a new drone product, but an entirely unprecedented interaction between advanced automation technology and practical conservation efforts.
What was the greatest challenge you encountered in developing your innovation and/or launching your startup and how did you overcome it?
Realizing the autonomous flight of drones with neural-network empowered object recognition and automatic object avoidance is the greatest challenge.
What are you most proud of about your company?
I am proud of my team that are willing to think out-of-box for challenging technical problems.
What piece of advice do you have for SBIR/STTR applicants – or – what have you learned that you wish you’d known when pursuing SBIR?
For any important part of your project, always have a Plan B ready, and know when to act on it. The last thing you want is to be stuck in a bad situation with no alternatives.
What is the most important ingredient or ingredients for a thriving innovation ecosystem?
Personnel. A great concept without a good team is doomed. But a great team can turn even a mediocre concept into a success story.
What makes Kentucky a great place to pursue SBIR?
The state houses a number of universities and colleges with a wide variety of novel ongoing research projects and programs: STEM, medical, agricultural, industrial, and artistic. Expertise, both for collaboration and potential employment, is surprisingly easy to come by. And it would be unwise to overlook the amount of traditional industry available. Fabrication, tooling, and manufacturing are just as necessary to a growing company as creativity and computing power, and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find whatever you’re looking for without leaving the state.