The sky is the limit of ideas for ways to utilize drones. Now it’s even easier to put those ideas into practice. Kevin Mukai of NVdrones shares about his vision for drone development software that is easy to use, cost effective and flexible, in order to spur even greater innovation in the drone industry.
Tell us about yourself and your background.
My name is Kevin Mukai, co-founder of NVdrones. I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii and moved to Los Angeles in order to attend the University of Southern California. I obtained my undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering and my master’s degree in Product Development Technology. I’ve always been fascinated by high-tech products and the impact they make on the world.
How did you get started in the drone industry?
Back in 2013, my friend and co-founder, Emerick, showed me one of the drones he built in order to help him with aerial photography and other artistic work. We talked for a long time about the ways drones were going to transform so many things we do in everyday life and I was enthralled by the sheer potential of the technology. So, I joined him and another co-founder to build these drones.
What type of drones and gear are you flying? What is your favorite drone to fly and why?
While we were building our own physical drone we almost exclusively built and flew our own custom airframes. Ever since we completely switched to doing software, we’ve been flying the DJI Flamewheel and Phantom for most of our testing.
Our favorite drone to fly is the Phantom. Its ease of use in setting up and flying is unmatched with any other product we’ve tested (so far).
Tell us about NVDrones, what it is, and your role there.
NVdrones was created to simplify the complexity surrounding drone app development. We saw that existing development platforms were extremely difficult to use for most people, even to the point where most people give up before they even accomplish anything. We’ve built everything from the ground up with ease-of-use, flexibility, and cost in mind. We don’t feel that there is another platform that offers all three of these qualities. Our goal is to allow other companies to be built on top of our platform that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do so.
Our development board, the NVextender, plugs into any drone flight controller and allows you to create a drone app within just a few minutes. We’ve built dozens of high-level API calls so programmers can easily make any drone perform autonomous tasks and also attach different sensors, actuators, etc. to integrate into your app. Our goal is to make drone apps as easy to build as web or mobile apps, and the NVextender is the first step towards us accomplishing that. It is also currently 20% off for pre-orders (it will retail at $199). You can buy it at https://developers.nvdrones.com/buythedevkit.
What inspired NVDrones? What has the process of development been like? When do you launch?
NVdrones was inspired because we wanted to enable drones to reach their full potential. There are so many great things that drones can accomplish, but it is so difficult to customize software to tailor a drone to do a specific task. Because of this, you can only really customize drone software if you are an expert. We knew that if we eased this development process that innovation would happen at a much quicker pace.
The process of development has been a lot of fun and has been moving quickly. We’ve built a very capable and driven team that all share the same vision. It has been exciting to see how our product has grown over time and fortunately we’ve been able to make it to our first launch, which will happen over the summer.
Our first public appearance where people could use our electronics was at Maker Faire in San Francisco on May 15-17. We had a very interactive booth and were excited to finally show the world what our platform can do.
What’s your take on the proposed FAA regulations? How does NVDrones help people follow the regulations?
Even though the FAA has received a lot of criticism for releasing regulations slower than predicted, I think it is extremely important for them to get it right the first time. The FAA is between a rock and a hard place – if they put out regulations on-time, there would be a potential backlash about them not considering every variable – if they delay regulations to get it right, there is backlash about them not working fast enough. Regulations have shown signs of easing up over the past six months and I believe over the next 5-10 years the regulations will continue to become more sophisticated and capable of handling an increasing number of drones in the commercial space and in urban areas.
We have exciting plans (both in technical features and strategic partnerships) to integrate best regulation practices for apps that developers create. Unfortunately I can’t go into detail right now, but we take safety and following regulations very seriously and will do everything we can to ensure safety with our platform.
What other practical uses do you foresee for your product?
Companies are hoping to use our developer kit so that they can create fully autonomous applications for industries ranging from cinematography, entertainment, swarms, and delivery. We built the platform because we wanted to enable new and exciting use-cases for drones, so we really feel the sky is the limit.
Tell us about your team and what makes them great. Any interesting stories about how you came together?
We’ve put together a really awesome team that loves working together. Together, we’ve had past experience at SpaceX, Flipboard, Apple, and Qualcomm, and I consider it a privilege to work day and night with such a capable group of innovators.
I think the most interesting part of the team is that all of us made very big career sacrifices in order to join the company. Our CEO left his job at SpaceX, our CTO left his job at Flipboard, and our head of developer relations moved from Bali here to LA. We’re all very committed to the company and share the same long-term vision for the company.
What advances in drone technology (other than your own product) are you excited about?
I’m really excited about the technologies that enable drones to become more self-aware about its surroundings, for instance what Skydio is doing with computer vision. I’m also really excited to see improvements in battery technology and RF communication/security. I think that these three enabling technologies are crucial towards the success and commercialization of the drone industry.
Thank you so much for your insights. Is there anything else that we haven’t touched on that you would like to share?
Thank you very much, as well! I would just like to reiterate that buying our developer kit now will give developers a 20% discount and we are shipping in July. You can buy it at https://developers.nvdrones.com/buythedevkit. Happy flying!
Learn more at nvdrones.com
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