Michael Mendez is the UAV Operator and FAA Liaison for VSG Unmanned, which became the first company in Georgia to get an FAA exemption to commercially fly UAS (drones). We sat down with him to find out more about VSG and their plans for the future.
Tell us a little about VSG Unmanned.
VSG Unmanned is a remote sensing unmanned aircraft company for agriculture and forestry based in Norcross. We develop data systems that collect high definition geo-referenced images and stitch them together so that farmers and crop consultants can get 100% coverage of their land.
What was the process for getting your exemption?
The FAA put out guidelines for exemptions and part of that was requesting exemptions for specific applications. With the help of the Center of Innovation for Aerospace, particularly Steve Justice and Gary O’Neill, I drafted our exemption application that we then sent to the FAA back in August of last year. In March, we got word that we had received our exemption.
What does having the exemption mean for your business?
Having the exemption means that we can act as a commercial entity utilizing UAV’s. We are legal in the eyes of the FAA and can generate revenue from our unmanned systems.
We are using off-the-shelf systems to operate our technology – platforms that already exist – specifically for agricultural applications. Agriculture is likely going to be 80% of the demand for unmanned systems, so we are focusing primarily on this and the forestry industries as of now and are researching possibilities for infrastructure/pipeline maintenance and other commercial uses.
How did you get involved in unmanned systems?
I started out on the manned aircraft side of things. I got my fixed wing and helicopter licenses while I was at Middle Georgia State College and graduated with a degree in flight/logistics management. While there, I interned with Chad Dennis, who was the UAS Liaison for the Georgia Center of Innovation for Aerospace. As an intern, I learned a lot about UAVs and the UAS industry as a whole. I became fascinated with this world, and there was not a high value on unmanned systems at the time so I saw a lot of potential in this field.
Are you looking at opportunities to collaborate with other companies here in Georgia?
We aren’t currently working with other companies but are always open to collaboration. We will be at the AUVSI [Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International] conference in Atlanta next week and are hoping to network, discover new technologies and meet with potential collaborators and clients.
How has the Georgia Center of Innovation for Aerospace been a resource to you?
Because of the Center of Innovation for Aerospace and Steve Justice’s expertise, I was able to draft VSG’s exemption application myself without having to outsource the project. We also continue to collaborate frequently with the Center at various events around the state and depend on them for vital business connections and to keep us in the loop on Georgia aerospace.
For the full details of the AUVSI conference in Atlanta May 4-7, visit www.auvsi.org.
For more information on the Center of Innovation for Aerospace, visit www.Aerospace.GeorgiaInnovation.org.