As society scrambles for additional work-arounds to fight the transmission of the COVID virus alongside the vaccines, some novel technologies are emerging.
A Winnipeg company that specializes in using drones to conduct geophysical studies for mineral exploration companies thinks it may have hit on a good one.
EarthEx Geophysical Solutions, a Winnipeg and Selkirk company, has just acquired the Canadian rights to a technology developed by a Pittsburgh start-up that can put electro-static charges in liquid and, with their patented technology, deploy the technology on drones for precision spraying of disinfectants.
The Pittsburgh company has already secured a couple of high profile sports venue clients — Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby and PPG Paint Arena, the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For instance a drone can power wash and clean the seats in an outdoor stadium in four hours that would normally take in excess of 12 hours with a crew of 10 workers.
Charging the solution with electro-static energy allows the solution to adhere to surfaces in a thin, uniform layer including the sides and underneath of surfaces, like seats and arm rests.
Daniel Card, the president of EarthEx, said, "If I am a fan in an arena sitting next to someone I don’t know and they are coughing or sneezing into their hand and then they touch the arm rest then I touch arm rest, I will feel a lot more safe knowing there is an active disinfecting agent working on that arm rest at that time."
EarthEx has just finalized the partnership with the Pittsburgh company, Aeras, and has not yet taken delivery of any of the large custom-built drones – they are six-to-seven feet wide weighing more than 24 kilograms — but he said he has already has an introductory conversation with the people at True North Sports and Entertainment, the owners of the Canada Life Centre, home of the Winnipeg Jets.
Aeras just started commercial deployment at the beginning of last year. Eric Lloyd, the CEO of Aeras, said the company is in talks with arena and stadium operators throughout the U.S.
Card is enthusiastic about being able to play a role in reducing the spread of the coronavirus.
"Something that we have all learned is that there is no silver bullet," he said. "Even something as powerful as vaccines still needs the help of all the citizens and all the organizations taking whatever precautionary step possible to combat this. We just want to be able to be one of those that can help make a difference."
While the original design of the technology was to do sanitization work, it is the electro-static technology that is patented and Lloyd and Card believe there will be all sort of applications long after the pandemic is history.
"We think there is applications for precision agricultural spraying," said Card. "Electro-static spraying is far more efficient with what is being used to spray fields now."
The company is also finalizing a design that would use the electro-static sprayer on drones to clean office tower windows.
The electro-static spray nozzle uses a patented shielding technology that eliminates drift, making it more environmentally friendly.
Lloyd said the company has been approached by all sorts of would-be investors and partners but EarthEx is the first and only company it has partnered with.
"We’ve been talking to Daniel and his team for about eight months now," said Lloyd. "We are so impressed with them. EarthEx will serve as the model we will use moving forward. We know it will be a great relationship."
Card said he and his team of ace drone pilots are looking forward to adding the interior confines of places like sports arenas to its current operations flying drones in the great exterior expanses of isolated mineral exploration locales.
"The use of drones is an industry that is in exponential growth," said Card. "We got to a point where we realized the drone work we are doing in mineral exploration is comparatively pretty complex. We realized our pilots and our capabilities with technical operations of drones was an asset unto itself. That led us to explore other avenues where these skills can be applied."
EarthEx employs about a dozen people now, but may purchase dozens of the Aeras drones – costing tens of thousands of dollars each — and expects to he hiring more people as the business opportunities develop.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.