Monday, December 2, 2013
Dreamhammer's Dream Of Interoperable Drones
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
In the world of drone aircraft and robots, right now everyone develops their own, on-board operating systems software to run those autonomous systems. However, Santa Monica-based Dreamhammer (www.dreamhammer.com) has a different vision of the world, where entire fleets of aerial drones and robotics surface vehicles can all operate off a single, interoperable operating system--much like you get multiple smartphones running on Android today, or computers on the same OS. We spoke with Dreamhammer's CEO, Nelson Paez, about the company's software and its vision for a interoperable operating system for drones and robots. Dreamhammer is one of a number of robotics and drone-related startups here in Southern California.
Nelson Paez : For the past four years, Dreamhammer has been developing a software product called BALLISTA, which is what we refer to as a drone operating system. It's new technology, and a new way of utilizing unmanned systems such as drones and robotics. You use it in a very similar fashion to how you PCs and mobile devices use their operating systems, so you don't have a stovepipe solution where a UAV can only be useful for one purpose. The software can be used to control any unmanned system, whether that's an air vehicle, a space vehicle, or a ground or surface vehicle. Multiple applications can be used together in a way that is not being done today.
What's the story behind the company, and how did it start?
Nelson Paez : The Defense Department had requirements for providing unmanned systems for the purpose of surveillance and such for the past twenty years. They've been spending the most money and utilizing those unmanned systems for some time. We at Dreamhammer had been working closely in the industry, and were aware of the potential near-term commercial applications of this technology. We knew there would be a need in the commercial market, and prepared for it by building a viable, commercial-off-the-shelf product.
What's the background of your team?
Nelson Paez : Dreamhammer has been in the enterprise IT technology area, providing high end architecture for enterprise IT. We were originally focused on Fortune 100 companies, from our inception in 2000 through the dot com bust. In 2004, we started providing the same kind of services to the government, mostly in defense and intelligence. We ended up positioning ourselves around 2008 to start developing and marketing the product. We had been doing a lot of engineering and designs on existing systems as government contractors, and had gained good insight and information into how those systems operated at scale. However, you rarely find that you can spend government money on those capabilities for commercial products, so we looked to see if we could use Wall Street money and our own money to create a commercial product, to become part of the next, big industrial revolution.
Where are you now with your product?
Nelson Paez : Our strategy was, before releasing our product to the general public, to release it to our military and intelligence customers. The reason we did, was to ensure that they'd be able to use it with their multi-billion dollar systems. We released our software to the general public in August of 2013. It was very exciting, because we pretty much have the larger market taken care of, which is the hardest one to penetrate. We have wide acceptance from large UAV manufacturers, and our strategy now is to provide this to the do-it-yourself community and smaller drone community.
Most UAVs use their own operating systems today.Why would someone decide to base their product on your OS instead of rolling their own?
Nelson Paez : If you think back to a Wang or Brother, those word processing machines, that's what they did. The machine, the software, the printer were all built into one. However, if you look at the PC or Mac, the approach there is to separate application on those devices, connecting them with an operating systems like ours. Manufacturers of drones can now have multiple applications that can run on those drones, not just the applications they have built. On top of that, we are making our platform available for third party application developers, similar to the way developers can create software for the iPhone or Google Android. That's a key factor. I think that by making our platform available to the third party development community, they will be able to create applications which run for an entire community of drone developers and manufacturers.
What's the next big goal for you?
Nelson Paez : We are spending a lot of time with large drone manufacturers, with integration and testing. Starting in 2014, we expect to start having major announcements of companies who are releasing and bundling drones with our software. That will be an open aperture for the third party application developers. We're going to be spending lots of time next year with the entrepreneurs of the world, to help them build software that brings capabilities of drones into the market, by a simple investment of their time and talent.