paid $36M for one drone, could have bought five for same price
The Guyana Government recently unveiled five drones it had recently purchased at $36M each.
But it turns out that these drones were acquired from a start-up tech company that is located in a business incubator.
Investigations by this publication have found that the company—Skyfront Drones—is in fact a start-up drone company located in a business incubator.
Compounding the situation is that government paid as much as five times more than the cost of a similar drone for similar specifications.
In fact, the one purchased by the Guyana Government is one that the company only managed to finish designing and testing in August last.
Earlier this year, the company while seeking to employ a ‘Drone Flight Test/ Electromechanical Technician’ described itself as a growing, early-stage startup.
The responsibilities of the person being sought in February this year, was described as “a detail-oriented individual with manufacturing/assembly experience to help build and fly long range hybrid powered UAVs capable of 5+ hour flights.”
The company said “in this role, you get to test the latest in drone technology and travel to remote locations to aid customers…This is an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a company that is changing the face of the commercial/military drone industry.”
Investigations by this publication found that the actual business location for Skyfront, is a small 1,100 square feet, rented unit, inside of a warehouse.
The unit, located at 4499 Edison Drive, Melno, North Oaks, California, USA is in fact a shared space for a number of other tech start-up companies.
The facility is called Edison Technology Park, named after the street on which it is located.
Other businesses sharing the space, includes a flower company, Acuity Technologies and Mountain View Pharmaceuticals—other start-up companies.
Skyfront was founded in 2014 by its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Troy Mestler, who accompanied two other partners to Guyana recently for a demonstration for the GDF.
Investigations by this publication found that the $36M price tag for one of the drones could have purchased up to five similar ones from reputable companies, or more improved types used by the military for long range high altitude surveillance.
The drone purchased by Guyana uses a hybrid gas engine that has been tested for just over four hours but advertised to have a flying time beyond five hours. It flies up to 100 metres in height.
Among its features, is the ability to fly in extremely cold conditions ‘outside of the line of sight.’ It was also touted to be able to withstand temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius.
Guyana’s average temperature is 31 degrees Celsius.
A demonstration of the capabilities of the drones were recently conducted before a final decision for the purchase was made.
Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Brigadier Patrick West, at the time lauded the acquisition of the drones, saying it will significantly enable the Force to fulfill its functions and mandate, particularly as it works towards effective transformation for total national defence.
“Based on that programme, we have the acquisition of technology to enhance communication and to ensure that we can improve security as well. We are happy that the Defence Board did approve of this acquisition and that the demonstration was successful. It will be used not only to patrol our porous borders, but we will also be able to monitor close shore and we would be able to do some amount of anti-piracy patrols as well.
“It will also support the whole Smart City Solutions as well, because wherever there are blind spots in the system, the drones will be able to pick up there,” he said.
Additionally, Commander of Signal Corps of the GDF, Lieutenant Colonel Roger Nurse, said the purchase also caters for training, capacity building and knowledge transfer.
“As part of the acquisition, training is part of the package. As a policy in the GDF, as part of the acquisition of specialised equipment, we generally want to have three crews trained in its operation. There is no exception in this case. So we are looking to have three crews or about 12 persons to operate the equipment as well as provide transfer of knowledge and sister agencies as well,” he said.
Commander Nurse further noted that the drones are long endurance and can last for as long as five hours, while the cameras attached to the drones can be used in daytime and nighttime situations as well as search and rescue operations.
“One of the major considerations we have been looking at is its endurance and the time it can fly for. This is a world leading drone and can fly for about 5 hours without payload. With payload, it can fly between 2 to 4 hours. In addition to that, it has the ability to manoeuvre small spaces, ability to hover, track targets, and so these were some of the considerations we looked at. Then there is also the technology on the drones like collision avoidance.
Colonel Godfrey Bess, Quarter Master General of the Force, who was integrally involved in the procurement of the drones, said Guyanese can be assured that the drones are top quality, since extensive research was conducted before the proposal was put forward.
“Having done our research, we are confident that it is value for money,” he noted.