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Kiwi startup Dotterel wins innovation award for noise reduction drone technology

Friday 22nd April 2016

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New Zealand startup Dotterel Technologies has won an innovation award for its noise-reducing drone technology at the 2016 NAB Show, the world’s largest annual convention to launch innovative products to key influencers in media, entertainment and technology.

Auckland-based Dotterel was set up only nine months ago by three brothers – Mat Rowe, Shaun Pentecost, and Seamus Rowe - after they won $10,000 as finalists in Callaghan Innovation’s inaugural C-prize competition aimed at developing world-leading drone technology for the film, media, and gaming industries.

Since then they’ve been working on a prototype of their technology which reduces the sound of a drone’s engine, saving time and money for filmmakers who would normally have to eliminate the sound in post-production. The startup has also developed agricultural drone technology for field trial monitoring.

Dotterel’s Most Innovative Product award from, dedicated to the use of large sensor cameras and digital single-lens reflect cameras (DSLRs) for news and documentary shooting, is one of a number of different category awards the American website hands out annually at the NAB show which attracted more than 100,000 attendees in Las Vegas this week.

Seamus Rowe, the youngest of the three brothers at 22, said the award provides publicity for the fledgling company at a crucial stage of trying to get drone manufacturers interested in the technology.

The noise reduction shrouds are linked with nano-fibre acoustic dampening materials that reduce and direct radiated noise skywards and have the added benefit of further protecting the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and their operators from being hit by the propellers.

In early trials Dotterel’s technology reduced the drone noise while filming by 6 decibels and it will publish a paper next month from further research on its latest prototype which is likely to lift that figure closer to 10 decibels, Rowe said.

“If you’re flying a drone at 20 metres above and you get a 10-decibel reduction then it now sounds like it is 40 metres away – so it doubles the distance that it sounds like it is at,” he said.

Filmmakers would no longer need to get rid of the sound during post-production and it also opens the possibility of live broadcasts.

“It means they would not be called drones anymore but that name has kind of stuck now,” he said.

The two older brothers both formerly worked for the NZ-founded carbon recycling company LanzaTech.

Mat Rowe, now Dotterel chief executive, said they’re still working on a business model with options including having other drone manufacturers incorporate the noise reduction shrouds into their own frameworks or Dotterel building its own silent drones.

Rowe said the company is seeking seed capital or partnerships from drone manufacturers to further develop the technology.

The global commercial UAV market is expected to grow from US$500 million in 2014 to US$2 billion by 2022, or a compound annual growth rate of 17 percent, said a November 2015 study by US research consultancy Grand View Research. Agriculture and law enforcement are expected to drive early uptake.

(BusinessDesk receives funding from Callaghan Innovation to cover the commercialisation of innovation)

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