Drones World In Conversation with Mr. Eric Freeman, Founder and CEO of Alpha Unmanned Systems.
Could you brief our readers about Alpha Unmanned Systems and your role in leading it?
Alpha Unmanned Systems (AUS) is a company 100% Spanish leader in the design and manufacture of unmanned fuel-powered small tactical helicopters. It designs two very reliable and versatile flight platforms, both of which are less than 25kg and fly between 2-4 hours with up to 4kgs of payload. The possible applications and services that Alpha’s drone helicopters can offer are very varied: from agriculture, mining, surveillance, maritime, industrial inspections, rescues and many more. Our offices are in Madrid, Spain and we have teams that travel globally with our UAV helicopters for events, testing, pilot training, customer maintenance, etc…. Madrid is one of the best areas in Spain for experimental drone flights, well-educated engineers and many Airbus-related suppliers. Our company has customers currently in 8 countries, on three continents. I am co-founder and CEO of AUS since 2014, managing the company’s business development efforts and strategic direction with the crucial support of a team of over 20 talented people, among them top-notch engineers and aeronautic specialists.
Tell us about your experience in the field of UAVs and what were your fields of expertise before venturing into UAVs?
Before starting AUS some eight years ago, I raised venture capital funding, staffed and managed 2 start-ups and worked with more than 10 others. I consider myself an expert in strategic marketing and in international business development with a focus on building corporate alliances that create strategic value while driving revenue. I understand the challenges that start-up companies face and the need for organizational infrastructure to support and adapt to rapid growth. While I am currently immersed in new technologies and surrounded by engineers, I originally studied History at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut followed by an MA in Spanish Civilization from New York University and an MBA from UCLA in Los Angeles. Because of my work, I travel extensively and love the challenge of introducing new technologies in a meaningful way. I am a reasonable cook and a proud father to a wonderful daughter.
Speaking of your product Alpha 900/800, could you elaborate its specifications, capabilities and the possible modifications?
Our state-of-the-art Alpha 900 UAV model is was designed and developed in-house, with significant input from the world’s largest defense companies and end-user clients. This is a 25kg fuel-powered helicopter that can take off vertically from a moving vessel and land autonomously on it, requiring a small logistical footprint for these two essential operations. It can also fly relatively longer flight times compared to other similar-sized UAVS. With a powerful combustion engine that uses gasoline or heavy fuel, it gives great autonomy (up to 4 hours) and can carry payloads of up to 4 kgs. It is built “Stanag Compliant” meaning that all critical systems are redundant. This makes it a very good technology for many navies, coast guards, and/or seaborne intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and/or reconnaissance operations. The A900 is the result of more than 3 years of research, tests and flights based on our original A800 platform, though with increased dimensions and capabilities. Navies around the world, coast guards, and others have recently shown an increased interest in UAVs for maritime security and critical surveillance missions. For example, more monitoring is being required due to increased migration through the Mediterranean and at key nodes such as straits, ports, and nuclear installations. Naval units and the use of UAVs onboard can provide deployable capabilities that deliver fast and accurate information. To your question about possible modifications for this particular UAV, the A900 is a very flexible and adaptable helicopter that allows for multiple models of optical payloads and cargo platforms. Its design is also very flexible regarding the needs and specific requirements of each customer we serve.
Enlighten us on the UAV markets in Europe and the Indian regions. How do they compare against each other?
This is a great question that is difficult to answer as we do not have experience in the Indian regions. End-users worldwide, from coast guards to navies, customs organizations, police and border control all need reliable platforms that can fly more time and carry multiple types of payloads. By focusing on maritime security with the Alpha 900, we are confident that there are more similarities than differences with our customers worldwide- all of which require and demand systems that work. Most of these organizations are looking to test UAV technologies and if they continue to do so and work with manufacturers like Alpha, they will ultimately help shape and ensure the availability of ever-easier to use reliable platforms that can fly many different sensors and deliver realtime data securely.
What is Alpha Unmanned Systems level of participation in AUVSI Xponential 2022?
We took the opportunity to participate in this year´s edition of Xponential 2022 in Orlando to present our flagship product, the Alpha 900 UAV helicopter. Considered one of the most important events in the UAV sector in the world and a great showcase for the North American market, Xponential brings together the leading companies in the industry. It was a great moment for us to participate in this year´s in-person format in which both exhibitors and the general public attended in large numbers. A team of engineers from AUS and I personally traveled to Florida to present the new helicopter, network with industry experts and respond to the many inquiries we had from clients and prospects. Overall, it was a very productive and engaging experience.
As a Managing Director, what are your plans for the expansion of Alpha Unmanned Systems both in terms of products and the business?
The future of our company is definitely oriented to reach a global market in a global economy. Although we currently have many clients in Spain and the European Union, AUS is increasingly focusing its sales and marketing efforts on other important and promising markets around the world. The Asia region and North America have become hot spots for our products, but we also see a promising future in developing economies both in Latin America and Africa. As an example of our international orientation, we are currently participating in ResponDrone, a project funded by the European Union under the H2020 program. Its main objective is to create a technological platform that allows emergency teams (firefighters, police, civil guard, civil protection, UME…) to improve the situational awareness they have in emergency situations, as well as to gather the necessary information faster and improve communication and collaboration between the parties involved. Alpha brings to this project its fleet of UAVs and ground control stations. Alpha’s drones are especially versatile and suitable for emergency situations, due to their high autonomy (up to 2:30h for the A800 and 4 hours for the A900), payload capacity (up to 2.5kg for the A800 and up to 4kg for the A900) and operating range (greater than 50km radius). All this is possible thanks to the use of fuel-powered engines, which also allow for minimizing downtime by fast refueling. It even permits the use of payloads that consume higher amounts of energy as an onboard generator and our own Power Control Module power all electronics. In addition, we recently announced the incorporation of Joseph Menaker, co-founder and CEO of UAV Factory (now EDGE Autonomy) to Alpha´s Advisory Board. With over 30 years of hightech industry experience, he will provide Alpha with deep managerial and industry knowledge. We look forward to learning lots from Joseph and from his extensive network of contacts in the industry. Joseph has excellent experience with the target markets of our new Alpha 900 and we are confident that we can execute even better and grow even faster with his insight and support.
UAVs in general are either fixed wings or multi rotors. Is there any specific reason for choosing the helicopter over the other designs?
Absolutely! While multi-copters, VTOLS and fixed-wing UAVs all have plenty of use cases, no other platform resists wind and light rain better than a traditional helicopter format. Our helicopters can hover for 1-2.5 hours and none of these other systems can do this today. Further, fuel-powered engines provide greater flight autonomy gram/gram compared to electric systems and can be refuelled faster than the rest. Payload capacity is also greater than VTOLs and more sophisticated and power-intensive payloads can be used thanks to the onboard generator. While we like electric-powered systems, and I actually own an electric car, when I really have important distances to travel and important work to do, I’d prefer a fuel-based car any day. This is why our motto at Alpha Unmanned Systems is, “UAV Helicopters for Hard Work.”