Fly4Me gets FAA approval, launches ‘Uber for drones’

Fly4Me's team. From left:  co-founder Adam Kersnowski, designer
David Amatuni, co-founder Dmitry Sharshunskiy, and 
attorney Karina Dodor.
Fly4Me's team. From left: co-founder Adam Kersnowski, designer David Amatuni, co-founder Dmitry Sharshunskiy, and attorney Karina Dodor.

One of the first companies to get a drone business off the ground in New England is not a next-generation robotics company but rather a small startup that’s betting that people are already itching to hire freelance drone pilots for an aerial photo shoot.

Cambridge-based Fly4Me hosts a website that connects drone pilots with customers who want surveys, maps, building inspections, and other tasks suited to a drone’s unique perspective. The startup officially opened for business last week, following approval from the Federal Aviation Administration this spring.

The commercial use of drone aircraft — usually small, inexpensive remote-controlled gadgets — is still heavily regulated by the federal government. Entrepreneurs have argued that this approach has stalled innovation in the space. Fly4Me’s FAA certification says it can “conduct community training workshops, research and development, and aerial inspections of buildings and land within the United States.”

It’s among the first group of some 600 companies that the FAA has approved to fly drones commercially. Also on that list is Boston-based insurer Liberty Mutual, which got the green light last week to conduct inspections of roofs, homes, and large structures after events like a fire.

Fly4Me formed in December and got FAA approval in mid-April.

A beta version of its website debuted last week. There, homeowners or companies who need an aerial scout can post a description of their job, and pilots who own and fly camera-carrying drones can register, view listings, and bid for a gig.

So far, the five-person company has begun taking on their own jobs as drone pilots. But it hopes to grow a cadre of regulars who will operate as contractors.

The team has photographed a car show, conducted roof and chimney inspections, and is working with a photography company to create a promotional video for a Boston country club. Fly4Me also has the attention of  solar companies that want to measure shade and the surface area of roofs.

New pilots will be asked to take a short flight test to evaluate their abilities when they register with Fly4Me, founder Adam Kersnowski said.

Kersnowski, who also owns a construction business, said using a drone was an easier and safer way to conduct some aspects of his old job, such as roof inspections. He also regularly uses a drone to record family outings and trips with his kids.

“We loved the idea of drone capturing data with drones we just couldn’t figure out the best way to scale it,” said co-founder Dmitry Sharshunskiy, who owns an energy consulting company.

Both men were looking for ways to commercialize a drone company after gauging how useful it could be in their own fields — Kersnowski for roof inspections, and Sharshunskiy to do aerial surveys and mapping for the sites his energy company was auditing.

Meetings with investors guided the duo toward a “Uber-style” model for drone pilots. The company is currently bootstrapped but hopes to convert interest into investment soon.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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