Cole Rosentreter, Chief Executive Officer, Pegasus Imagery with one of the companies drones on Tuesday, July 30, 2019 in Edmonton. The Edmonton company builds massive commercial drones for farmers, fighting forest fires and the military.
Greg Southam / 00088102A
In the popular imagination, drones conjure up two opposing images: the cheap and disposable play things of children and hobbyists or the ultra hi-tech and expensive killing and spying machines of the United States military.But there’s a new world of drones opening up, one where they perform all kinds of tasks better and more cheaply than existing technology.These drones will do everything from pipeline to crop inspection, from providing real-time information on forest fires to greatly extending the reach of the police when they’re hunting for suspects.A new Edmonton company, Pegasus Imagery, is leading the way in this field.Cole Rosentreter, 37, Chief Executive Officer of Pegasus, realized the need for the drones in civilian and business situations because of his long experience in the Canadian military.Rosentreter signed up to serve for Canada after the 9-11 terrorist attack in New York. He worked his way up to become a sergeant in a Canadian airborne unit.In his 14 years in the military, serving in Afghanistan, Brazil, the Canadian Arctic and eastern Europe, he learned about problem solving, adaptability, resiliency, leadership and the value of discipline, he says. “You learn that discipline isn’t rigid. Discipline provides a bedrock for you to build things on. If you can do the basics right, you can do anything.”He got out of the infantry after a major parachuting injury. On a night jump his leg got caught in a wayward electrical cable while he was exiting the aircraft. He smashed into the fast-moving plane for a few seconds until the cables broke. He was able to deploy his parachute, but had suffered major internal injuries, especially to one leg.The injury gave him a chance to re-assess. When he thought about what he might now do, his mind went to the times his infantry unit had been sent to help with Canadian natural disasters, such as forest fires or the 2013 floods in southern Alberta. Rosentreter and his unit were deployed to High River, where they helped build a wall out of sand bags that helped prevent flooding.But doing this work, Rosentreter noticed how poorly equipped civilian services were compared the military. “We’d arrive and there would be no tools. The toolbox is empty. Actually, the toolbox looks like it’s about 1956.”One major missing piece was reconnaissance, which is where Rosentreter saw the possibility of drones taking on a major role. “It is the single biggest tool that anybody could ever have. Name a problem, and what’s the one thing you should be trying to do? Figure out what your problem is. And if your problem is dynamic and it shifts and moves, you have to learn faster than your problem evolves. That is a critical lesson learned in the military. Information and intelligence drives safety.”He sees his company providing the missing commercial piece between the military drones sold by Lockheed Martin to the drones sold at Best Buy. Small battery-operated drones can fly for 30 minutes, but his gas-electric fixed wing drone can fly straight up into the sky, then go for four hours, moving at 100 km/h.Rosentreter retired from the infantry a year ago in June, acquired his first drone from China in July, then went to work modifying it to include the various sensors he needs to map terrain and locate hot spots in fires. “We got the skin and basically we had to put everything else in to make it a real living, breathing machine.”Pegasus is already getting contracts, including one to inspect oil sands equipment after a major forest fire.Indeed, fighting fire is perhaps the most obvious application for the Pegasus drone. There are 127 fire lookout towers in Alberta, which require a huge amount of resources to man and to supply. Drones can do this surveillance work day and night and in low visibility, locating hot spots with infrared sensors, and moving in fast on any fire activity to get a close look in real time.If a town is evacuated, drones are also able to monitor the streets for any activity, freeing up the police to do other work or to get rest in a stressful situation.Rosentreter is now working on manufacturing an Alberta-made drone. He’s also working with government regulators to allow for long-flying drones to fly on their own, out of their operator’s vision. This will allow for long drone missions and for one operator to control as many as 20 autonomous drones at once.“We’re doing something that no one else in Canada is doing right now,” he says.