SkySkopes' stratification as top Drone Service Provider validates its day one vision

In October, SkySkopes announced that it was named the top drone service provider (DSP) in the U.S., as well as one of the best globally, by Drone Industry Insights (Dii), the leading source for business intelligence in the field of commercial drones.

Equipped with a highly qualified operations and geospatial team, SkySkopes was ranked according to its size, consistent drone-industry development, global UAS market-share, growth, public awareness and online presence and activity.

“I’m truly delighted by Drone Industry Insights’ stratification of SkySkopes as the top DSP in the U.S.,” SkySkopes CEO Matt Dunlevy said at the time.

“It validates our safety-based approach to the UAS business model and stands as a testament to the incredible professionalism demonstrated by our pilots and staff everyday. I’d have to say this ranking is also born out of the extremely rich UAS ecosystem in North Dakota.”

An assessment of more than 750 global companies known as drone service providers, the Dii report defines drone service providers as “companies which use drones to acquire information about an object or phenomenon without making physical contact with the object. Typical outcomes are: aerial images, orthophotos, point clouds, live views, thermal imagery or hyperspectral imagery.”

“North America is the second-largest drone market today and will grow to nearly $12 billion USD in 2025. This being said, we congratulate SkySkopes to be the leading drone service provider in the USA, constantly pushing the envelope and therewith the entire market forward,” said Dii CEO Kay Wackwitz. 

For Dunlevy, SkySkopes’ stratification as top DSP in the U.S. and one of the best globally serves as a “partial validation” of the company’s day one vision to become the “most trusted and advanced Drone Service Provider.”

“It shows that the work of our pilots and staff has not gone unnoticed on the national stage,” Dunlevy tells AUVSI via email. Dunlevy adds that the stratification “galvanized” him and his team into a recommitment to the company’s safety-mindedness and business model.

“We were elated by the thought that we could show this stratification to clients to demonstrate to them that we’ve walked the walk and so that they know they’re getting quality deliverables,” he says.

Roots in academia

With its headquarters in Minot, North Dakota, SkySkopes’ roots are deeply engrained in the state, which for years has been at the forefront of UAS technology. Specifically, the University of North Dakota (UND), where Dunlevy studied mechanical engineering and history, has played a pivotal role in the company’s founding. A teacher at UND, Dunlevy assigned students in his class to pitch a startup company as a final semester project, but the students asked him to give them an example so they would know how to prepare. After agreeing to do so, Dunlevy began to think about what opportunities existed in North Dakota at the time. 

“When I looked at the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) ecosystem, I saw that North Dakota had every piece of the jigsaw puzzle, with the exception of a Drone Service Provider,” Dunlevy says.

“It was surprising to me because UND had stood up the first UAS baccalaureate program in the United States and were churning out graduates with UAS degrees left and right. The cluster was there, the supply was there, and it was up to someone to create the demand for pilots.”

Dunlevy pitched the drone data collection business model to his class, but halfway into the discussion he began to hesitate— “it came over me, as if a breaking wave,” he says—because he knew he couldn’t leave the idea in academia. 

“It just so happened also that I have been passionate about aviation, in all its forms, my entire life, so I incorporated SkySkopes that semester and applied for and received a 333 exemption,” Dunlevy says.

SkySkopes operates a wide range of advanced sensors and aircraft for transmission and distribution line inspections, oil and gas applications, and many other innovative use cases that focus on adding value. Some examples of innovative missions that SkySkopes has participated in include partnering with the Minot, North Dakota Police to bring UAS to a successful missing person search, and leading North Dakota’s UAS Coalition developing mission sets against COVID-19. The company has also launched SkySkopes Oil & Gas LLC, which is a spin off company for UAS-related oilfield operations.

Keeping an eye towards BVLOS missions in 2021 and beyond

To continue its innovations and building its client portfolio, SkySkopes is keeping an eye towards beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) missions in 2021 and beyond. Before BVLOS arrives in a scalable and repeatable fashion, the company is finding other tried-and-true methods to change the unit economics and possibilities of data solutions in the energy and engineering sectors, Dunlevy says. He adds that the company has found some “incredible unique opportunities” in a few new areas by applying the company’s sensor expertise to new methods. 

“North Dakota is a great place to do this in 2021 and into the future,” Dunlevy says.

For Dunlevy, the next iteration of SkySkopes is “one of evolution towards a model of platform agnosticism.”

“Our UAS technologies are state of the art, though with the current regulations and the skills that our data processing teams have, we need to find more ways to do those data specialists justice,” he says.

This means expanding the company’s inventory and variety of sensors to include better and new types of sensors, so that they continue to be the first to learn some of the most important lessons of UAS capabilities, and also take those lessons into a more diverse stable of platforms such as manned aircraft and ground-based collection devices. 

“With more platforms and options on the menu for our clients, this also means that we will continue to strive towards end-to-end excellence,” Dunlevy explains.

“From the initial contact to the after-action reports with customers, we consider it a luxury to have all of the steps in the data collection and delivery process under one roof.  I believe that provides customers better intelligence on their assets, and we will maintain our progress in refining each phase of the aerial data value stream.”