Photo: Doug Finger/Gainesville SunPrioria CEO Bryan da Frota displays the company's Maveric UAV, which can carry a number of payloads, from cameras to sensors and other imaging equipment.
Droning on: Florida companies find growing demand for UAVs
Growing demand for UAVs is drawing more Florida companies into the market.
When UF grads Bryan da Frota, a business graduate, and Jason Grzywna, an electrical engineering graduate, founded Prioria in Gainesville in 2003, they planned for the company to build robotic toys.
Instead, they’ve ended up catering to demand for hightech unmanned aerial vehicles from the U.S. military and other government agencies, as well as from civilian customers in agriculture, law enforcement and other fields.
“The market is exploding,” says da Frota, Prioria’s CEO.The company, which employs 29, is looking for seven more engineers to meet demands for $4 million in contracts with NASA, the U.S. Navy, the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Air Force.
Among the company’s UAVs is Maveric, a black, carbon-fiber aircraft that looks like a model airplane but is packed with high-tech cameras and other sensors. The Maveric can perform tasks from giving soldiers an eagle-eye view of a battlefield to helping farmers monitor crops to helping police provide security or search for missing persons.
Prioria is far from the only UAV player in the state.According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, there are 20 drone companies and 400 people who are members in Florida.
Along with manufacturers, a number of firms highlight their use of UAV technology, including Flymotion Media, a Tampa firm that uses UAVs to produce high-resolution aerial photographs and videos for its clients. Drone Aviation in Jacksonville is banking on tethered drones, which receive their power and instructions through “very high strength tethered line, hooked to a truck,” says COO Dan Erdberg.
Meanwhile, the University of Florida operates the multidisciplinary Unmanned Aerial Research Group, which is helping to develop small, affordable user-friendly UAVs.
The biggest challenge to growing the market for UAVs is regulatory — federal laws outlaw the use of UAVs in commercial airspace in the U.S. In 2012, Congress directed the Federal Aviation Administration to create a road map to integrate UAVs into the national airspace by Sept. 20, 2015.
A 2013 study commissioned by the association predicts that Florida stands to gain 3,521 jobs with an economic impact of $632 million in the first three years after drones are integrated into the national air system. The study projects that by 2025, the economic impact of drones in Florida will be $3.8 billion. It predicts that precision agriculture and public safety will be the largest markets of UAV technology.
The UAV market “is rapidly growing, and it is up to us to make Florida an attractive business destination (for UAV) manufacturing, testing, research and operations,” says Jim Kuzma, COO of Space Florida, the state agency charged with promoting UAV technology.
CEO Sounding Board
By Mike Vogel
What’s the business outlook for the arts in Florida in 2015?
President, CEO / Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota
“My gut is we’re going to have a good 2014-15. What’s more interesting is, what’s it going to be like in the next five years. For full season with our new music director, Anu Tali.We’re going to see a natural uptick and excitement about the orchestra and arts here in Sarasota. The economy recovering has helped and the restoration of state funding for arts organizations has been a positive thing. I will say this, while those things are really great and positive, nothing is the same coming out of the recession.”
M. John Richard
President, CEO / Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami
“I think there’s a great opportunity with the quality of the programing we’ve been increase principally due to two blockbuster shows.We have now established an arts center that’s representative of many cultures, many art forms, always setting the bar high. There is a Miami brand that we’re helping to define to the world. Arts and culture is a centerpiece of this. The arts and culture institutions are driving place-making in our emerging and changing neighborhoods.”
Sue Ellen Beryl
Managing Director / Palm Beach Dramaworks, West Palm Beach
“We are healthy and thriving.Attendance and individual donations continue to climb, as does support from corporations, combined with the generous support we received from the state Legislature, has enabled us to expand our reach and our outreach. We are instituting a lab to develop new plays and have begun a program that will bring more students to our performances.So we’re flourishing, but we’re never complacent. We continue to challenge ourselves and our audience, and we take nothing for granted.”