Drones used in schools and in the Arctic

Last year, Copter Express Technology (COEX) sold 1,300 quadcopters (drones) and plans to double their output and earn RUR 250 mio ($3.9 mio) this year. COEX no longer qualifies as a startup – it is now Russia’s number one supplier of drones to colleges, school societies and technology parks to assist in training flying robot operators – a profession of the future. The company also cooperates with large companies delivering their cargo and monitoring their infrastructure. Oleg Ponfilenok, CEO and majority owner of COEX, shared his views in an interview with Invest Foresight.

COEX makes two types of drones – Clever 3 Training and Methodology Complex and Pelican Autonomous Drone for Monitoring and Cargo Delivery. Both types of vehicles are assembled at the Technopolis Moscow special economic zone, where the company’s office is located. The training center is also based there. Schoolchildren and college students come to learn how to design, assemble and pilot a quadcopter, as well as to program its autonomous flight. After assembling the Pelican drone, a student will be able to assemble any drone, COEX experts say, because they will understand the design of the craft, and will be able to replicate it. Moreover, industrial drones now use the exact same computers as those installed in Clever 3.

COEX supplies students with a complete training course that includes video tutorials, manuals and a platform for studying and developing unmanned aircraft, Gitbook. All the program updates are available on Githab. The new generation now has an opportunity to learn a new profession, flying robot operator. A couple of years ago, colleges started offering training programs. In schools, children begin to learn how to make unmanned aircraft at the age of 11.

But before ending up in classroom, COEX demonstrated what its drones can do. The most famous flight of one of their drones was Dodo Pizza delivery in 2013 in Syktyvkar. It was covered by major media and NTV channel invited Oleg Ponfilenok on the One Million Idea show. The second delivery took place in Samara in 2015. But for Pofilenok, fame also came with a lawsuit because it is prohibited to fly unmanned aircraft in Russian cities. However, the businessman won the case.

The Pelikan unmanned aircraft is most commonly used in the oil and gas sector. Rosneft uses drones to monitor whether its employees wear hard hats at drill sites. If an employee gets injured this data is taken into account when estimating the insurance benefit. The monitoring is required for oil workers’ safety. A security guard would be more expensive than a drone. Pelikan with a charger costs around RUR 990K ($15.3K) and RUR 490,000 ($7.5K) without a charger. COEX sells drones but not operation services.

For Gazpromneft, drones delivered radio beacons to ice floats for icebreakers to freely navigate through the North Sea ice in the Arctic.

“The most profitable area for us today is monitoring oil extraction, oil refinery plants, and various oil infrastructure,” Ponfilenok says.

And this is what COEX is doing today for Rosneft.  

The Pelican industrial drone has a speed of up to 72 km per hour, weighs up to 3 kg, and can travel 30 minutes on a single charge, with a 10km range. The company is currently developing the flight software. The aircraft lands on a special marked 1.2m x 1.2m area that looks like a QR code, and uses its computer vision to read the code or an ArUco marker that contains a programmed operation: the marking gives a command to the drone, such as taking off and others.

The Copter Express Technology company was founded in 2016. Oleg Ponfilenok owns 95% of the company, while his business partner Vasily Filippov owns the remaining 5%. According to the official data, last year’s revenue totaled RUR 109 mio ($1.7 mio), and the net profit was about RUR 30 mio. In 2019, the company intents to earn RUR 250 mio ($3.9 mio). In the past three years, COEX’s turnover has doubled; the company received government contracts worth RUR 53 mio. Major government customers include Moscow State Educational Complex, Krasnoyarsk-based children’s technopark Quantorium, and Moscow College of Business Technologies. So far, educational drones generate the most part of COEX’s revenue.

“Our company is the only one that produces fully unnamed self-charging drones. For this purpose, we have built a charging station,” Ponfilenok emphasizes.

The company seeks to cover as many Russian regions as possible with its charging stations, similar to cellular network coverage.         

By Natalia Kuznetsova

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