Conversations with AUVSI: Deuce Drone

Founded in 2019, Deuce Drone’s goal is to solve the last mile delivery problem for “brick and mortar” retailers by enabling drone shipment from existing stores. Leveraging the current infrastructure of its clients, Deuce Drone designs, builds and operates drone delivery systems to transform retail stores into customer fulfillment centers, which helps retailers compete with major e-commerce players through a cost-effective, technology-driven solution for same-day delivery.

In a new interview series from AUVSI entitled "Conversations with AUVSI," Deuce Drone CEO Rhett Ross took the time to answer some questions about the company’s background, its recently announced partnership with a Buffalo Wild Wings franchisee, and its short-term and long-term goals. This interview was conducted in early July. 

What was the impetus behind the launch of Deuce Drone in 2019?

John Fanning (Deuce Drone founder and founding chairman and CEO of napster) had been looking at drones and their potential for several years. John came into contact with Philip Burton (Deuce Drone founder and CEO of Burton Property Group), a community business leader in the Real Estate segment on another possible deal in 2019. During their discussions, they discussed drones and saw a business fit. Specifically, they saw an opportunity to bring enabling capabilities at a lower cost to both retailers and consumers by not trying to design all of the items necessary, i.e. we do not intend to design or build drones. They also saw gaps that Philip’s real estate knowledge could fill as it related to enabling buildings/property to be modified to accept drone operations in a safe manner for employees and customers. This was the genesis of the idea for Deuce Drone. 

The Deuce Drone leadership team is made up of a retired Brigadier General, someone who has 30 years of aerospace and engineering management experience, two CEOs and two graduating seniors studying Aerospace Engineering at MIT; what are the benefits of such diversity at the leadership level, and how will you all look to utilize this diversity to make your mark in the unmanned systems industry?

This will be a complicated business as it covers a range of technical, business and regulatory issues. While many teams come up with great ideas, it is often the experience and execution that separate the leaders. As Philip and John moved this from discussion to execution, they realized that finding people that knew what they are doing would really improve the idea’s chances to move into contention. The core team was built around what we saw were skills that were needed in the early stages when we are still lean. Specifically, we needed robotics experience from the best sources (MIT and Stanford), aerospace regulatory experience, logistics and business. Each of us brings key attributes along with broader skills. The early team has been able to attract support including an experienced app developer (Stanford), gain critical customer partners, and interact with government agencies. Our networks are also giving us access to a broader range of engineering talent, customers and community that will let us be technically and financially successful. 

You all recently announced that you’re going to demonstrate your drone delivery system with Potters Wings Mobile, a Buffalo Wild Wings Franchisee, in August, so how did that relationship start, and how did it culminate in the upcoming demonstration?

This is the benefit of our diverse set of founders. In this case, Philip, through his primary business, is connected with many local and national retail businesses. He has introduced many to the Deuce Drone concept. Potters Wings Mobile DBA Buffalo Wild Wings was the first to sign up. We have another that should be announced shortly (Rouse Markets) and a number of others well into discussions. 

What are some of the regulatory hurdles you all have to address before the demonstration?

The primary regulatory drivers are not much hurdles. They are the processes put into place to ensure public and national airspace safety. As such, our intent is to work closely with the regulatory structure. The Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for the National Airspace. They have been mandated and indeed are working aggressively to support the introduction of drones and drone package delivery into the United States. My experience in this area has allowed me to have early meetings with the senior FAA leaders to introduce our company, methodology and timing. In addition, I have reached out to key experts that can help us navigate the complexities of working within the FAA Part 107 and Part 135 frameworks. 

On a more local level, several of our team has experience with local building codes and community codes that will be necessary to allow us to install drone landing and package handling systems within and around businesses. Our recent announcement of support from the City of Foley, Alabama is another example of being able to navigate the national and local regulatory environment. Our goal is to be a business that communities and businesses want in their region. 

For the demonstration, what kind of drone and associated technology will you all be using? And is this technology manufactured in-house, or are you using technology from other manufacturers?

For our first demonstration, we will use DJI technology. Specifically, a Matrice 600 Pro. It has a 12-pound payload and a good range. We will not design or manufacture drones as there are many fine companies out there leading in this segment. We may request certain modifications to meet our needs.  

We are a software and hardware company. Our software will be the platform for retail/restaurants/grocery to utilize for drone delivery. Our hardware will standardize how retailer/restaurant/grocery locations allow a drone to pick up a package and deliver to a customer. 

What do you all hope to achieve through your demonstration with Potters Wings Mobile?

It is the first step in our path to establishing revenue package delivery. This first demonstration flight is meant to show our partners, potential partners and investors a successful first automated flight of a drone with a package from point A to B. It will demonstrate key aspects of our technology, including flight software, vision recognition systems, package latching and release system. It will form the foundation for moving to the next stages of the package delivery process and eventual revenue trials at the end of the year.

What are the short-term and long-term goals of Deuce Drone, and what role do you think this upcoming demonstration will play in achieving these goals?

Our short-term goals are to complete our demonstration flight in early August and complete our fundraising round. Our midterm goal is to begin revenue package delivery with all key enabling technology in place for designated areas of the Mobile, Daphne and Foley markets in Southern Alabama. Long term, we intend to grow across the region bringing a positive delivery experience to retailers and consumers. 

Below (from left to right): KJ Hardrict, Deuce Drone Founder and Aerospace Engineer; Philip Burton, Deuce Drone Founder and CEO of Burton Property Group; Rhett Ross, Deuce Drone Founder and CEO; Brian Jordan, Potters II LLC and Buffalo Wild Wings Franchisee; Jason Hall, Potters II LLC and Buffalo Wild Wings Franchisee; Timmy Hussain, Deuce Drone Founder and Aerospace Engineer. Photo courtesy of Deuce Drone