A Corvallis company supplied and piloted aerial drones used in a first-of-its-kind whale study in the East Canadian Arctic this summer.
Complier Enterprise, 230 S.W. Sixth St., was part of a University of British Columbia research team that captured high-quality images and videos of bowhead whales during their summer feeding period in Cumberland Sound.
“We are one of those pioneers in the drone industry,” said Brian Whiteside, chief operating officer of Complier and a former Navy fighter pilot.
The company doesn’t manufacture drones but supplies software and services for the devices. That includes training for new pilots and a smart phone application, with regular updates, that ensures drones are operating legally and not in a no-fly zones, for example.
Both the industry and the rules regarding drones are evolving fast, Whiteside said.
He added that the future is robotics, and that means driverless cars, trucks, planes and more.
“If you’re not prepping for this future, you’re going to get left behind,” Whiteside said. “I’ve got a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old, and by the time they turn 16, there will be driverless cars on the road.”
What’s more, someday soon, these driverless vehicles will be seen as safer than automobiles with humans behind the wheel.
Tommy Seitz, director of operations for Complier, actually flew the drone during the month-long whale study. “I was operating this from a small boat in the middle of the ocean,” he said. And at times, the drones were as far as 7,000 feet away from Seitz.
The bowhead whale is the longest-living marine mammal in the world, according to a UBC news release.
“Much of what we know about their behavior has come from boat-based or aerial observations from small planes,” said UBC researcher and zoology Ph.D. candidate Sarah Fortune, in the news release.
“Now, thanks to the availability of drone technology and the clear water in Cumberland sound, we can observe their underwater behavior like never before, providing new insights into their feeding and social activities,” she added.
Fortune was fascinated by how often the whales swam in coordinated patterns, constantly touching or rubbing each other.
The whales never reacted to the drones, which occasionally flew below 40 feet, Seitz said.
Seitz, a U.S. Marine infantry veteran who served in Afghanistan, said that the cold was challenging, as it degraded battery life for the drones. At most, the flights were 15 minutes long and then Seitz would need to change the battery.
Complier also worked with the local Inuit population and tribal leadership during their visit to the Canadian Arctic.
Complier was formed in April this year, and it’s a partnership between Whiteside, who owns VDOS Global, and Wayne Rochat, an Australian who owns RPAS Training. Both were working in the drone industry and recognized their companies would be stronger combined.
Whiteside formed VDOS Global in 2011, and he moved the company to Corvallis from McMinnville in 2013, in part because he went to Oregon State University. “It’s a great town,” he said.
Complier has offices not only in Corvallis, but in South Africa and Australia, where Rochat comes from.
For more information on Complier Enterprise, go to complierenterprise.com.