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The publication of the Royal Decree on drone use opened a new, arduous chapter for the sector in Belgium. The strict, complex legislation proved to be challenging for most users, who are now struggling to meet all the necessary requirements to fly their drones. Committed to bridging this gap, the iMinds start-up IDRONECT developed an online platform that enables pilots to easily register, track and manage their activities, making drone flights easier and safer. Their innovative service recently granted them the Drone Hero Award for most international company.
Active in the field of aviation for 20 years, Tom Verbruggen was looking for a way to bring innovation to a market that was still using rather archaic methods in several management processes. Together with Chris De Rouck, he developed a safety management software that identified the risk profile of flights based on user input.
Plans were moving forward when in June 2015 the first draft of the Belgian Royal Decree on drone use was published. The complexity of the framework and its requirements came to them as a unique opportunity to make a difference in a sector where Belgium – as the last European country to legislate on the matter – was still so much behind. The first steps to start IDRONECT had been taken.
The initial plan was to create a digital logbook to allow drone users to have detailed records of their flights, including time, duration, place, distance and identification of both drone and pilot. These records were essential for drone users for both business – facilitated invoices to customers – and maintenance purposes of their drones. However, as they started developing the product, several other potential features started unfolding that would make life for drone pilots much easier.
IDRONECT offers an app that allows users to compile all official documents required for flying drones – insurance, medical certificates or pilot license, among others – and enables them to send their flight requests to the relevant authorities within the same app. The platform performs automatic flight risk analysis and has a set of information available that helps pilots make more informed decisions on their flights, such as maps of the regions and weather forecasts.
“We want to be for drone users what Google is for Internet users: all drone-related information, only one click away,” reveals Tom Verbruggen, co-founder of IDRONECT.
At the same time, IDRONECT also foresees the use of their tool by the authorities, cities and police. The platform has an integrated feature that makes it possible for the relevant entities to review the requests within the app and automatically approve them. This enables them to track all drone flights within their air space, allowing the co-existence of these devices and airplanes and connecting all relevant stakeholders involved in the drone sector.
“We are solving a universal problem: the safe integration of unmanned aviation in manned aviation,” states Tom.
As the idea gained shape, Roeland Pelgrims and Joris Noreillie soon joined the team, focusing on the Marketing, Sales and Financial department. The first version of the tool was finalized in December 2015.
The start-up was selected to join iMinds’ iStart Business Incubation program in 2016. Tom Verbruggen highlights the value of iMinds’ workshops: hands-on, to-the-point and entirely focused on the context of each start-up. On top of that, being accepted in the program is, according to the founder, a sign of recognition of their idea. The second ‘seal of approval’ came in May 2016, when the start-up won the Drone Hero Award for most international company.
With almost 400 registered free users at the moment, IDRONECT’s main short-term goal is to get their first paying customers in 2016. The tool is currently available for free, as they are dependent on the Royal Decree, which is still being subjected to changes.
The start-up is also looking for investment that will allow them to expand their tool to other European markets. The company is already in talks with stakeholders in the United Kingdom, France, The Netherlands and Germany. Future partnerships will include insurance companies and manufacturers to whom IDRONECT would be an essential tool in their daily activities.
IDRONECT’s long-term mission is to develop a universal platform for drone flight management. The publication of a European framework on the matter – foreseen for 2018 – will be their chance to achieve it.
Founders: Tom Verbruggen / Chris De Rouck / Roeland Pelgrims / Joris Noreillie Team (2016): 4 iMinds support received: iStart Business Incubation Program
source: iMinds website