SkyTwo drone being prepared for an outdoor flight  

Local talent, provincial support and international connections helped this cutting-edge aerial technology company fly high

CEO Didi Horn with a SkyX drone
CEO Didi Horn with a SkyX drone

Didi Horn first had the vision for his aerial technology company, SkyX, when he was a military commander for the drone squadron of the Israeli Air Force—but it wasn’t until he moved his company to Ontario that it began to thrive.

SkyX provides solutions for autonomous, long-range Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) (or drones) to collect bird’s-eye view aerial data for companies in sectors like oil and gas. Using drones to continuously monitor remote assets like pipelines is more efficient and provides data that can’t be gathered by traditional methods.

As a commander, Horn recognized drone technology’s potential and he left the military to pursue the idea that would become SkyX. “I wondered,” says Horn, “if there’s unlimited potential for technology like this, is there a commercial use for it?” After attending multiple industry conferences, he discovered that there was not yet an efficient way to deal with pipeline issues like spills and leaks—the energy industry was ripe for disruption.

While the idea started in Israel, Canada’s large energy sector with sizable infrastructure, remote landscapes with varied climates and progressive flight regulations made it the ideal space to build and test RPAS for long ranges in different conditions.

But it was the talent, support, and opportunity that Ontario provided that has kept this global technology leader headquartered in the province.

Tech Leaders

With its head office in Woodbridge, Ontario, just outside of Toronto, SkyX has taken advantage of the thriving technology scene in the area. “I believe Toronto is one of the greatest tech hubs. It’s evolving much faster than Palo Alto and San Francisco right now,” says Horn. “They take serious care of startups here, and that’s very nice to see.”

The tech itself is impressive: SkyX’s proprietary vehicles, equipped with infrared and multispectral cameras, can identify changes in vegetation health around an asset. In addition, the drone sends LiDAR pulses (a light-based technology similar to SONAR) to measure ground elevation and depressions and a gas spectrometer analyzes air particulates to determine whether or not a leak has occurred. All of this happens over long ranges, completely unmanned.

Remote piloting workstations in the state-of-the-art flight control room in Toronto
Remote piloting workstations in the state-of-the-art flight control room in Toronto

For such a tech-heavy startup, the kind of support the province provides—such as an Ontario investment tax credit for scientific research and experimental development—can be key to any new company’s research and development phase. For SkyX, R&D was critical for the first three and a half years. Their primary investor, Almond Tree Enterprises, is also based in Toronto, and in total, SkyX has invested millions in Ontario.

Ontario is also flush with the talent to support the sector, and SkyX has engaged with several universities such as the University of Toronto, Ryerson, Carleton and Ivey Business School. “We’ve hired co-ops and interns, as well as recent graduates from these schools,” says SkyX COO, Gav Martell. “We often turn to Ontario universities to fulfil our hiring needs, looking for programmers, drone enthusiasts, engineers and aerospace students.”

A Global Reputation

SkyTwo drone in the state-of-the-art flight control room in Toronto
SkyTwo drone in the state-of-the-art flight control room in Toronto

Just as Horn saw the potential for talent in Ontario, he recognized the role that Canada’s reputation could play in his company’s growth. “Canada has a very respectable standing in the global aviation world,” says Horn.

From a global perspective, Canada’s non-partisan stature lends an additional layer of credibility to the specific technology in which SkyX trades. “Canada is fairly neutral. You can have [an RPAS] company headquartered in Ontario, and it’s considered respected because it’s not militarized in the same way that Israel or the U.S. are,” says Horn.

That level of international respect is one reason the company has such an extended global reach with projects completed in the U.S., Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico and, of course, Israel and Canada. In Ontario, accessing approvals to test long-range flights beyond the line of sight and testing flight components in extreme temperatures and environments enabled the SkyX team to trust in their product and processes before seeking major international clients.

Canada’s remote and forgiving airspace renders the approval process much simpler than in the more crowded spaces of the U.S. and Israel. “There is a significant amount of uninhabited land in Canada and we knew that to approve flight above those areas would be much easier than flying near Tel Aviv,” says Horn.

From Israel to Ontario to the World

The founding team at SkyX was all Israeli, and eight of these original members relocated to Ontario to build out the first generation of devices in 2016. The company has become progressively Canadian ever since. This melding of minds and cultures has been integral to the company’s success.

In the world of RPAS, Israel has a lot of talent and know-how; in the world of innovation development, Ontario provides a near-limitless runway for areas like drone technology. “It’s about the ability to mix the Israeli and Canadian cultures to create a great team that learns from and appreciates each culture—and benefits from it,” says Horn.

SkyX manufacturing lead building an aircraft
SkyX manufacturing lead building an aircraft

And with big goals like Horn’s, the best, most connected team will be a necessity. “The SkyX mission is to make valuable, actionable information from the air accessible to companies,” says Horn.

Their goal is to be able to track 50,000-100,000 kilometres of land every day. This kind of coverage provides benefits that go beyond the needs of the oil and gas industry—ranges like that could help teams track and contain wildfires or could save animals from poaching. Like the technology itself, the possibilities are endless.

May 26, 2021
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