Drone Technology

At Coastal Drone Co., SFU Beedie MOT MBA student Kate Kienapple, melds her longtime love of flight with her passion for unmanned aerial systems. A veteran of the aviation industry, she was previously a flight instructor. Now, she’s at the forefront of the drone industry and has trained more than 500 drone pilots.

Drones are changing business, Kate says. But more than that, they’re saving lives. Watch and discover how.

Kate Kienapple

Director of Operations at Coastal Drone Co.

Management of Technology MBA


What do we mean when we talk about drones?

Drones come in all shapes and sizes—everything from a little 250-gram drone that you can pick up at the mall, to ones that require massive catapult systems to get them airborne. And there's different types of drones too. Most people think of just the quadcopter style that you commonly see, but there's also fixed-wing versions like airplanes and helicopter types as well. One of the coolest drones is called an ornithopter, which is a drone that flies like a bird.

The growth that we've seen in the drone industry in the last number of years has been really because of cell phones. All the technology that you find in your phone is on a drone—the sensors and accelerometers, GPS units and tiny little cameras are what allow drones to do everything that they do.

What are drones used for?

Drones don't really have one particular function. They work well in a bunch of different industries because really they're just a tool and that tool is carrying some sensor that you want to put somewhere that's too dangerous or too expensive to put a human on a regular basis. So they do the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs that you either can't or don’t want to make a human pilot do.

It's fairly common to see drones being used to inspect either large buildings, power lines, fields or areas related to an insurance claim. Another really cool application is where drones are being used at airports to scare away birds with the hope of preventing bird strikes.

Last summer in B.C. during the forest fires, drones were used at night to map the path that the fire was traveling so that the water bombers could do a better job the next morning.

What benefits do drones offer to business?

The cost benefit is there. Drones take the guesswork out of calculations, so instead of just being able to assess one small accessible area and interpolating that to the rest of a large space, you're actually able to scan the entire thing. Drones are changing the nature of jobs. Companies are not just looking for engineers, but engineers who are drone pilots.

Are there any reasons to be concerned about growing drone use?

The biggest controversies I see in this arena are around safety regulation, restriction and privacy—and I feel like the answer to all of those is around education.

With any type of technology that's changing as rapidly as this industry is, you always end up with some people using it in the worst possible way. And unfortunately those stories are the ones that make the best news stories. But there are a lot of people out there that are working really hard to make the industry into something that's well-regulated, safe and legal for all participants.

What excites you most about the drone industry and how it is evolving?

The biggest thing to look forward to with drone technology is flying beyond the pilot’s line of sight. Currently that's illegal in most areas of Canada, but that's what's going to open it up so that we're able to integrate unmanned aircraft and manned aircraft into the same airspace. This will allow for your Amazon packages to get delivered by drone. Another really cool application is aerial pharmacies. This is where you could have a drone deliver a defibrillator or an epi pen or some other type of lifesaving medication without a pilot needing to fly it to the person in need.

The thing that I find really exciting is how pervasive this technology is and it's really cool to see how people are getting creative with the applications of drones.

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