Upward Drone Solutions was only in business for a few months before the coronavirus pandemic hit and much of its work cleaning the exteriors of buildings dried up.
Andy Godfrey, CEO of the Pensacola Beach-based business, said that’s when he and engineers at the company had to pivot on the type of service they provided. They reconfigured a 55-pound drone from its original use cleaning the outsides of buildings, such as hotels, to disinfecting surfaces with powerful sanitizer.
“Basically the market that we had stopped. Exterior commercial cleaning just ended. They didn’t have budgets for it. A lot of places closed down. We knew we could adapt to this and we have, and now this has become obviously very significant,” Godfrey said.
Upward Drone Solutions has now been operating for about two months as a sanitation company. Godfrey declined to share the names of current clients but said he’s able to sanitize entire facilities like stadiums, schools, parks, music venues and airports.
Godfrey flies the drone about eight feet in the air and it emits a very fine mist of sanitizer out of an attached storage tanks to completely coat surfaces. He said the mist is electrostatically charged to ensure it binds to surfaces.
With the mist, surfaces that aren’t touched often will be safe from germs for a couple of weeks while on highly touched surfaces, the spray may last three to four days. Godfrey uses a tool called an illuminometer to show if there’s any remaining germs on surfaces once the spray is complete.
“It’s become an exercise into trying to restore public confidence and peace of mind as people resume life as they once knew it. And that’s not something you can legislate for,” Godfrey said.
Jim Sparks, program manager for the University of West Florida’s Center for Entrepreneurship, said during challenging times like the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important for entrepreneurs to adapt so they can continue to provide goods and services the community relies on in their daily lives.
“But we also have to come up with new ways to engage with each other in public settings, and so the work that they’re doing is really important to helping us be able to return to public spaces and feel safe while we’re there,” Sparks said.
Godfrey said the service is just a mitigation tool for facilities. If they wanted to make sure no one is spreading germs to each other once they arrive, facilities will have to take other steps like requiring masks.
“Basically we’re creating an environment for people to come into that is germ-free,” Godfrey said.
The company demonstrated the product at the Blue Wahoos Stadium. Godfrey said the size of stadium would only take his drone an hour and a half to completely sanitize with a drone, which he believed to be much faster than more traditional methods like using a backpack sprayer.
His drones can fly for about 10 minutes at a time before needing a battery change and a tank refill. In that time, they can cover 17,000 square feet in the right conditions, which is on flat surfaces and winds of no more than 10 miles per hour.
Upward Drone Solutions plans to expand advertising efforts across Florida in an effort to grow the business.
Godfrey said his company also plans to adapt if any local government mandates sanitation measures in order for a given business to reopen during the pandemic. But if the desire for drone sanitizing ends with the coronavirus, he’s prepared to come up for a new use for his drones.
“It’s been a very fluid situation. Obviously what we started doing is not what we’re doing now. We will follow wherever the drone leads it,” Godfrey said.