Last but not least in the #DodoAccord series, perhaps the technology with the most use cases of all to protect and restore biodiversity. Drones are being applied in everything from environmental monitoring to agricultural efficiencies that have direct and indirect benefits to the health of flora and fauna. Founder Shaun Passley explains how ZenaDrone is getting started in crop health, hemp and plans to expand as well into new industries like renewable energy.

ZenaDrone bookends expert views from Ÿnsect’s Antoine Hubert who argues for stronger connections between biodiversity and climate change in advocacy, Anthony Chadwick’s outline of what The Webinar Vet is doing to be sustainable and Tom McGillycuddy, Co-Founder of the retail investment app CIRCA5000 with a view that biodiversity bolsters ROI.

Subscribe for free and read the backstory to the hashtag at #DodoAccord, including the UN's COP15 with a roundup of news and views of expert contributors in the series.

Shaun Passley, Founder of ZenaDrone

What ZenaDrone is doing to protect biodiversity

What advice would you give policymakers in the absence of global agreement?

A lot of innovation comes from small businesses, so providing easy access to capital is important. You get a lot of entrepreneurs interested in doing certain things that will gain access to government contracts. They’re opening up the small businesses and the work those businesses do helps promote more innovation. Those businesses are the ones that are changing the world.

Then you have Tesla, which is really changing the world in terms of battery technology and legacy automakers are trying to catch up on that front. The industry has been funded by loans from the US government in many ways, so incentives are really beneficial and can force the market to adjust.

I mean, now every car manufacturer out there has its own eclectic vehicle. I also believe we can reduce helicopter usage - that’s really going to help the environment. It would use less gasoline and would be an overall benefit to society.

“A lot of innovation comes from small businesses, so providing easy access to capital is important… Those businesses are the ones that are changing the world.”

What advice would you give founders to have a positive impact?

I would say that, in our case, we’re going after helicopters. We’re trying to make helicopters kind of a thing of the past, certainly in commercial operations. Take repairing power lines, for example, I believe that should be done with drones instead.

We want to help get commercial operations off of their dependence on older technologies into newer, more sustainable ones that will be a huge benefit to society and to the environment.

“Help get existing commercial operations off of their dependence on older technologies into newer, more sustainable ones that will be a huge benefit to society and to the environment.”

Where do you see the biggest opportunities for biodiversity? Does it get lost in conversations about climate change?

If you have good policies and procedures on biodiversity, you will contribute to a good outcome in climate change.

For us, our main goal is to replace helicopters for certain commercial operations. Helicopters use a tremendous amount of fuel. It’s inefficient, it’s very costly and it’s very dangerous. We found that ZenaDrone is far more practical to use, easier to manage, and can complete tasks quicker and safer.

“If you have good policies and procedures on biodiversity, you will contribute to a good outcome in climate change.”

How should conflicts between economic development and biodiversity be resolved?

I think in terms of human needs. Society is getting more mindful of the environment and how to live in it, rather than from it. I believe we should see ourselves as stewards rather than takers. Anytime we remove lumber, for example, we need to plant more seeds. New technologies that make renewable energy good, clean and cheap will also help reduce the conflict.

“It’s a recycled environment. When we breathe air, we give up carbon dioxide. So [with carbon offsetting if] we plant more trees, more trees can absorb it, and give us more oxygen.”

ZenaDrone’s mission and focus on sustainability

Tell us about ZenaDrone, what’s your focus on sustainability?

We came up with ideas for the drone when we visited Ireland back in 2019. Originally, we were just going to do a software programme for drones, then we realised that the drones that were currently on the market just could not handle the unique terrain of Ireland.

We needed something more robust, more usable, more friendly, and more convenient for the farmers that would scan the field on a day to day basis, and also provide critical data and expertise about how their farms can grow and find diseases.

Where are your next priorities as a sustainable business?

In terms of wind turbines, there are a few ways that drones can be used. The first is to scan for any cracks in the blades. This is a common occurrence over time, and they need to be monitored and inspected - something that’s not easy to do given their size and location. We have a camera that can zoom up to 30x and identify cracks. Our machine learning system also finds points where cracks may occur in the future.

Another is that turbines simply need to be cleaned regularly. If they get too dirty, they’re not useful and they’re not able to turn as efficiently. We are developing a cleaning solution that will use recycled water in order to clean turbine blades, both inland and offshore.

What are your fundraising plans?

Epazz is a primary investor of ZenaDrone. We spun off a company called ZenaPay from Epazz back in 2018 and the company was renamed to ZenaTech to acquire a few other software businesses. So ZenaTech is cashflow positive and cashflow from ZenaTech’s operation is used to pay for ZenaDrome’s development and launch.

As we get more and more in tune as this system is used, we’ll seek additional capital.

What’s been the biggest challenge in establishing scaling ZenaDrone?

The biggest challenge is understanding the market for drones. A lot of drones are smaller in size - you have the consumer drones, like the DJI drones, those are being used mostly for photography, then you can go way up to the huge Bolin, those military defence drones - they’re essentially the size of small aeroplanes.

There are not that many drones that are in the size bracket of ZenaDrone, being two metres with a three-metre wingspan. We have a nice little niche.

What keeps you awake at night about ZenaDrone?

With new technology, there’s always risk involved. But right now, I think it is mostly order fulfilment and delivering the drone to customers, how the customers use it and, in turn, how we can support them as they’re using it.  

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