Robert Atwood and Richard Sullivan turned a dangerous part-time job into an idea for an award-winning company.
While working for the B.C. Wildfire Service, Atwood and Sullivan hung out of helicopters and identified hotspots in active wildfires, areas firefighters are taught to avoid at all costs.
To identify the hotspots, a team of three onboard the helicopter “(throw) spikes out the window…so (firefighter) crews can find them later,” Atwood explained.
This work is dangerous but crucial. If the wind changes direction, wildfire can overtake an area in less than five minutes. Without warning, the fire can destroy homes and end lives.
“For many reasons it’s fairly inefficient and it’s really, really dangerous because in order to find those hot spots, the helicopter has to fly the dead man’s zone,” Atwood said.
The founders’ unique education and job experience led to the development of Hummingbird Drones, a lifesaving business that uses drone technology to find hotspots. Hummingbird Drones now uses five unmanned vehicles to collect data formerly acquired by humans.
“We really feel we have uncovered a way to offer meaningful help for emergency response and wildfire agencies, or search-and-rescue type organizations,’ says Atwood.
International expansion on the horizon
Hummingbird Drones has six employees, each bringing a specialized background in drones, technology or engineering. They are well positioned to innovate and improve upon outdated practices using drone technology, Atwood said.
“We work as a team and share one vision. We have faced incredible odds and had to adapt along the way.”
“For me, it’s about not being set in my ways,” explains Atwood about his dynamic approach as CEO. “Having a willingness to adapt and learn, but also adjust your goal and mindset as to what the end objective is.”
The team is focusing on how drones can better assist search and rescue workers in their operations. The company currently works with Kamloops Search and Rescue, and they have are planning to expand their work to fire-prone areas in California and Australia.
“The B6 Innovation Centre has been unbelievable,” he says of the overwhelming community support and mentorship he has received to develop and grow his company. Atwood credits the B.C. Wildfire Service as an early adopter that helped the company test its technology.
“When you spend months developing something and then you take it out and see it being used in an emergency response situation, it’s unbelievable,” Atwood said.
Communicating with Canadians through .CA
When Hummingbird Drones created their online brand, the founders ruled out domains that didn’t reflect their B.C. roots. They eventually registered hummingbirddrones.ca.
“It’s an immediate indication that we’re a Canadian company, both in the space that we’re working in and for our target market.”
Having a .CA domain allows the company to easily connect with organizations in British Columbia. It also showcases the variety of uses for this Canadian-created drone technology to their ever-broadening international audience.
The company showcases its aerial photography and videography on its Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Hummingbirddrones.ca has helped the company communicate the power of their drone technology to a broad audience, helping get their technology to the emergency services that need it most.