Graduates take passion for robots to the skies

Designing tools for police officers and soldiers

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It has buzzed over battlefields, spotted grow-ops and helped count seals in Alaska.

Aeryon Labs Inc’s flagship product, the Scout, has been turning appreciative heads since the Waterloo company was incorporated in 2007.

But the remote-controlled aircraft soared to viral fame last year as an extra set of eyes for Libyan rebels.

"It really cemented us in the market and got us a lot of general credibility," says Dave Kroetsch, one of three former University of Waterloo students who founded the company.

Flying on four rotors, with a battery and a payload packed into a hub, the Scout is a serious device with a whimsical pedigree.

As an undergrad in the mid 1990s, Kroetsch set up an "aerial robotics" team to build small, radio-controlled aircrafts. Kroestch, teammate Michael Peasgood and friend Steffen Lindner felt there was something missing after they graduated and started careers.

They weren’t having the fun they had building flying robots.

With family and friends as initial investors, the three formed Aeryon in 2006. They parlayed with potential clients in a kitchen. Kroetsch’s garage was the Scout’s first hangar.

Hobbyists have been strapping cameras to radio-controlled aircraft for decades. The Scout, on the other hand, is designed for dangerous tasks, day or night, hot or cold, wet or dry.

“We're focused on the soldier, or a police officer, or a land surveyor who's got a job to do,” Kroetsch says. “So this is a tool, not a toy.''

About 35 employees work out of Aeryon’s offices on Bathurst Drive, Waterloo. They build the Scout and the payloads it carries, which range from cameras of different types to sensors for air sampling.

The Scout can use global positioning to tag the information it gathers. Customers include police services, armed forces and researchers.

"The big thing University of Waterloo was able to bring me, especially through the co-op program, was the ability for me to really understand what it was that I was good at, and what it was that I really wanted to do,” says Kroetsch. “I came out with a pretty clear vision of what it is that I enjoy doing."