The most convincing marketing is to show up and perform airdrops.
Media 7: What is DASH System, Inc.'s motto in this thriving aviation era?
Joel Ifill: Our motto is “Deliver to Impossible.” Logistics delivery solutions tend to focus on the middle and last mile. And while we intend to play a meaningful role in the middle mile, the most exciting near term opportunity for us is in the “impossible mile.” There are many locations around the globe that are “impossible” to deliver to: Locations where a natural disaster has just hit, rural Alaskan communities in the winter, or the thousands of inhabited islands that don’t have major airports. We believe these “impossible” locations can be served through precision commercial airdrops. When I founded this company, I was told that what we were doing was impossible, and that big players weren’t pursuing it for a reason. We don’t let the difficulty of the challenge interfere with realizing our vision. We see opportunities where others see impossibility.
M7: How does precision aerial delivery and automated air cargo delivery work?
JI: Our precision airdrops are inspired by smart bomb technology repurposed for commercial and humanitarian use. We take a regular cargo airplane, fly it directly over the customers and, instead of having to land at the airport and drive the cargo to its destination, the cargo launches itself, flies down and lands safely at the desired location. To make this magic happen, we develop three main parts:
An iPad based flight management software suite
A bespoke aircraft cargo handling systems
Autonomous cargo pods
We start with a normal cargo airplane and open the door mid-flight. The pods sit on top of our automated cargo handling systems. Our software maps the delivery route and instructs the pilot where to fly. When the aircraft gets to the right spot, the software tells the system to launch the cargo out of the door at the precise moment.
The pods consist of a standard container and an intelligent tail kit. The IP and intelligence are in the tail kit, which has a built-in GPS-based guidance system and flight controls (this part we recover when possible). This tail kit is attached to the back of a 30 or 55 gallon drum that holds all the cargo. The pods monitor their position and follow a set trajectory to guide the package safely to a designated point. A parachute automatically deploys in the final seconds to make a soft and safe landing on the ground.
When we couple our precision with automation we create a system that allows anything, from manned cargo aircrafts, to helicopters, to drones to be capable of launching and landing cargo mid-flight! From a precision standpoint right now, we can land in a space smaller than a soccer field from our airplane at thousands of feet in the air. We will continue to refine until we can land in a space smaller than a helipad reliably and repeatedly 365 days a year as part of routine air cargo operations.
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Make sure that what you’re building aligns with market realities, not necessarily what is the most optimal technology.
M7: What challenges did DASH System, Inc. confront for package delivery under recent, unfavorable weather and sociological conditions?
JI: Our whole mission is to deliver into unfavorable conditions! There is no free lunch. Let's examine a few scenarios. In Alaska, very talented and brave “bush” pilots land on water, gravel, or snow runways in order to resupply isolated towns. These airstrips generally don’t have towers, weather radar, or in some cases, even landing lights. Whether it’s fog, snow, storms, or severe winds, these landings become very dangerous to impossible. With our systems we can fly above the bad weather and drop into the same location without having to risk the aircraft and crew trying to land in whiteout conditions.
In disaster relief, all traditional systems that make a modern society function are damaged.
Roads are damaged and destroyed, the power is off, cellphones and internet services are offline. In these circumstances the first challenge is information, understanding where people are and what help is needed. The second and larger problem is getting the supplies to them. We help by providing an air bridge that doesn't need any external infrastructure to work. We can fly from an area outside of the disaster zone and airdrop the supplies directly to hospitals, aid stations etc.
Finally, in general commercial deliveries, the biggest challenge is overcoming the status quo. For millions of Americans living in rural communities, rapid deliveries are not an affordable solution. Let’s take west Texas ranch communities. In those locations, a trip to a Wal-Mart can take up half of your day. We are looking towards performing direct to farm deliveries for parts and equipment that keep a farm running smoothly, and even just daily supplies, providing that major city supply chain experience to small towns.
M7: What are the primary marketing tactics you use to build brand awareness for your company?
JI: When you are doing something fundamentally new and disruptive, the best marketing tactic we find is to just do what you say. We can show all the economic benefits, the new profitable routes, the 30-50% fuel reduction. Ultimately the most convincing marketing is to show up and perform airdrops. It immediately dispels the preconceived notions of what airdrops were and replaces it with what they can unlock today. A lot of our focus is on evangelizing and helping the world understand our value proposition. As an added bonus, the airdrop process is very visual and cinematic. Watching a camera from the perspective of a pod as it leaves a commercial aircraft until it touches down on target is a very interesting viewpoint almost no one has ever seen before. We like to share videos and media to whoever will listen.
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Logistics delivery solutions tend to focus on the middle and last mile.
M7: If you had to advise our readers on overcoming the challenges in the present Aviation industry, what would it be?
JI: The modern aviation industry is conservative and risk averse by design. Great aviation organizations are built by perfecting and refining their operations. Therefore doing anything new in aviation is an uphill battle. For the technologists, make sure that what you’re building aligns with market realities, not necessarily what is the most optimal technology. I’ve seen many great ideas struggle because they didn’t consider regulation and operational requirements.
For the business minded, analyze the resistance and “no’s” you receive from stakeholders. In my experience about 5-10% are valid, and the rest are a version of “I don’t want to change what I’m doing”. By definition you cannot innovate and improve without upsetting the status quo. However, if you can understand the real pain points and friction you can find quicker more efficient pathways to adoption.
My final advice is to just dream big. A little over a hundred years ago the first airmail route in the US was established. They had no airports in which to land, and no navigation aids to guide them. Just a paper map and landmarks to follow. At the time many weren’t convinced aircraft had any economic future besides a novelty. On the inaugural airmail flight every pilot got lost in the clouds and were forced to emergency land in farmers fields. I’m sure it was daunting to take off again the next day. Today Air cargo is a $65Billion dollar market. Do not shy away from challenging the status quo, do not shy away from challenges and risks. Progress is designed in dreams and built with sweat and tears.