That’s a wrap: Another great Aerial Evolution Association of Canada Conference

That’s a wrap: Another great Aerial Evolution Association of Canada Conference

By Scott Simmie


What a great show.

The Aerial Evolution Association of Canada (formerly Unmanned Systems Canada – Systèmes Télécommandés Canada) held its annual conference and trade exhibition November 7-10 in Ottawa. The event had an excellent turnout, along with the usual selection of high-quality learning sessions.

There was plenty of discussion around the coming world of Advanced Air Mobility, where new and transformative aircraft (many of which are innovative new autonomous drone designs with detect-and-avoid features) will routinely deliver heavy cargo and even passengers over dense urban centres and to regional communities not currently served by traditional aircraft.

Another timely topic was the increasing use of drones in the conflict in Ukraine, as well as the latest developments in Counter-UAS technologies (including both detection and mitigation). There was even a live demonstration of a new kinetic C-UAS drone that uses a net to disable and capture a rogue RPAS.

Reps from Transport Canada and NAV Canada were on hand to discuss proposed changes on the regulatory landscape and – always an important part of these gatherings – hear questions and concerns directly from the industry. These open exchanges have long been a hallmark of the annual event.

AEAC Plenary



There was a notable emphasis this year on Indigenous use of drones and other technologies, including a powerful session about detecting unmarked burial sites on the grounds of former residential schools. The concept of data sovereignty – who owns data captured on unceded territories – was also discussed. There was even a presentation on how drones have helped to capture important First Nations cultural events. Plus, of course, the employment and opportunities that RPAS education and initiatives are creating for Indigenous entrepreneurs and communities.

Below, one of the Indigenous panels, moderated by Kristin Kozuback (C)



SAIT‘s Shahab Moeini talked about a program using UAS to detect land mines using AI, machine vision and sensor fusion. Many previous and current efforts have used magnetometers, but these metal-detecting sensors are neither effective nor appropriate given that many land mines are made of plastics and other non-metallic materials. Machine Learning is being used to train drones to recognise the many, many, different types of land mines – even if only a portion of the device is visible above ground.

“Land mines,” said Moeini, “are the nastiest creation of mankind.”

Below: Shahab Moeini, who runs SAIT’S Centre for Innovation and Research in Unmanned Systems (CIRUS)



Among the many excellent and innovative presentations, one by Spexi Geospatial caught our attention. The Vancouver-based company has built software that allows pilots of micro-drones to automatically fly and capture hexagonal-shaped areas the company calls “Spexigons.” Each Spexigon covers 22 acres and when an adjacent Spexigon is flown the data and imagery are seamlessly connected. With enough Spexigons captured, you’ve got a high-resolution version of Google Earth – and a ton of use-cases for the data.

The Spexi software carries out the flights automatically using DJI sub-250g drones, flying standardized capture missions to produce imagery at scale. The data is uploaded to the cloud where it’s stitched together to form highly detailed images of very large areas with a resolution of 3cm/pixel. (A satellite, by contrast, captures at 30cm/pixel while a standard airplane generally captures at 10cm/pixel.)

During one recent mission, “over 10,000 acres of imagery was captured in three days,” explained Spexi COO Alec Wilson.

“We’ve made it super simple to get images in and out at scale… And we’re super-excited to be able to start building bigger and better platforms for the drone industry.”

Below: Spexi’s Alec Wilson explains how the system works…

Alec Wilson Spexi



This year’s conference saw an increased emphasis on Women in Drones.

Though this has been on the agenda at past events, the 2023 event had somehow a different feel: The recognition that women are not only increasingly entering and shaping this male-dominated sector, but that many are high-level subject matter experts making significant contributions.

While progress has been made, there’s still work to do on the equity front. And there was a strong sense the AEAC is committed to achieving that.

Below: The close of the Women in Drones breakfast

AEAC Women in Drones Breakfast



One of the most memorable parts of any Aerial Evolution Association of Canada conference is the awards ceremony. Individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the RPAS industry are nominated, voted for by their peers, and selected for recognition. Recipients range from student engineers (the RPAS CTOs of tomorrow) through to service providers, manufacturers – and even government agencies.

Those honoured at this year’s conference include:

  • Dr. Frederique Pivot: Pip Rudkin Individual Achievement Award
  • Jacob Taylor: 2023 Indigenous Innovation Award
  • National Research Council of Canada Aerospace Research Centre: 2023 Organizational Achievement Award
  • Bryan Kikuta, Toronto Metropolitan University: 2023 Mark Cuss Memorial Scholarship
  • Ana Pereira, University of Victoria: Best Student Oral Presentation Award (judged)
  • Aman Basawanal, Carleton University: Best Student Technical Paper Award (judged)

Below: The National Research Council Team receives its award



There was one more award recipient to whom we’d like to give a special shout-out. It’s Katelin (Kate) Klassen, who received the 2023 Aerial Evolution Ellevatus Award “for her outstanding dedication in uplifting, empowering, and inspiring women in the Canadian RPAS sector.”

Kate is truly a pioneer in this field. A multi-rated private pilot and flight instructor with traditional aircraft, Kate has been a significant force in the drone field for years. She’s an educator (her online courses have trained more than 10,000 pilots), a lobbyist (she’s taken part in multiple consultations with regulators – including being co-chair of the CanaDAC Drone Advisory Committee), and a true advocate for RPAS education. Her knowledge of the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) is legendary – and she has inspired and encouraged countless women (and men) in this industry.

Plus, she’s truly an all-round awesome human being – always willing to share her time and expertise. Congratulations, Kate – and all the other winners!

Kate (C) looking justifiably happy…

Kate Ellevatus



Though they didn’t receive any awards, three key members of the Association certainly merit public recognition for their contributions. Jordan Cicoria (CEO of Aerium Analytics) did an outstanding job as Conference Chair. In fact, he’s overseen the last two in-person conferences, while also taking the helm of the virtual gathering during the peak of the pandemic. That’s a *lot* of work, and Jordan has carried out these tasks both professionally and modestly while juggling a plethora of moving parts.

A lot of work on the conference – and elsewhere – came from AEAC Executive Director Declan Sweeney. Declan worked hard behind the scenes (and on countless calls) with sponsors, exhibitors, membership drives – you name it. He’s also deeply involved in the annual student competition. Declan does it all with professionalism, and a great sense of humour.

Equally deserving of recognition is AEAC Chair of the Board Michael Cohen (also the CEO of Qii.AI).

Michael has been serving the Association well, and was key in the transition and rebranding from Unmanned Systems Canada / Systèmes Télécommandés Canada to the Aerial Evolution Association of Canada. This was far more than a name change, but an organizational shift to reflect the coming era of Advanced Air Mobility. He’s been instrumental in the Association’s push toward greater Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – which was reflected in the conference agenda.

The Association also benefits greatly from Michael’s extensive knowledge and background; he’s a former commercial jet pilot – a distinct advantage when discussing the Big Picture (and the minutia) with regulators.

Thank you, all.

Below: Jordan Cicoria (L) with Declan Sweeney, followed by Michael Cohen (R) with Transport Canada’s Ryan Coates

Jordan Declan
Michael Cohen Ryan Coates



As always, we were pleased to participate at the annual Aerial Evolution Association of Canada conference. In addition to the sessions, the networking and the trade exhibit – it’s of tremendous value to have the industry and the regulators together for collaborative discussions. There’s been tremendous progress in this sector over the past decade, and much of that is due to regulators truly working with the industry to safely advance RPAS use in Canadian airspace, including BVLOS flight and other more complex operations. Technology that was seen almost as a threat in the early days is now being accepted as a useful – and critical – adjunct to the overall world of aviation.

InDro Robotics staff appeared on multiple panels; CEO and AEAC Board Member Philip Reece, pictured below, took part in the Counter-UAS panel and a live demo of kinetic C-UAS drone at Area X.O‘s Drone and Advanced Robotics Training and Testing (DARTT) facility. (That’s Philip below.)

Philip Reece



We’d be lying if we didn’t tell you that a true highlight for us was seeing Kate Klassen receive the Ellevatus Award.

“One might easily conclude we’re happy simply because Kate is a flight instructor and regulatory expert with InDro Robotics,” says CEO Philip Reece. “But that’s really just a sliver of the truth. Kate’s contributions over the years have been plentiful, significant, and lasting. We’d be applauding this recognition just as loudly even if she didn’t work with InDro.”

We are, however, very happy – and fortunate – that she does.


YOW Drone incident recounted in WINGS magazine

YOW Drone incident recounted in WINGS magazine

By Scott Simmie


If you follow the news from Indro Robotics regularly, you’re likely aware we’re the key technology provider for the YOW Drone Detection Pilot Project.

For several years, we’ve been involved in detecting drones flying in proximity to the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport. The data is collated into regular reports and shared with partners including Transport Canada, NAV Canada and the RCMP. It has also proven invaluable in assisting YOW with developing protocols for drone incursions and even apprehension of individuals violating RPAS airspace rules.

Among the project highlights we’ve covered in the past:

These stories have been picked up by multiple news outlets in the past, including the Ottawa Citizen, CBC  News, sUASNEWS, DroneDJ – and many more. In fact, here’s one those CBC pieces, covering the drone detection used during President Joe Biden’s visit:




The data obtained during that December 2022 incursion is highly detailed. In fact, it offers a moment-by-moment description of how the flights went down (and up), along with how YOW authorities responded to the event. You can find the WINGS article online here, but we’ve also pasted it below for your convenience.

Apologies for the split headline, but this was a double-truck page.




We’re grateful to WINGS Magazine Editor Jon Robinson for amplifying our YOW drone incursion story. The more that incidents like these are publicised, it’s reasonable to assume that fewer will occur as people learn more about the regulations and penalties.

It’s also clear, as was demonstrated at the 2023 Aerial Evolution Association of Canada conference, that drone mitigation technology continues to improve. During the event, there was a demonstration of a drone that can track down and disable a rogue RPAS with the kinetic firing of a net. (Radio Frequency jamming is not permitted under Industry Canada rules except in extraordinary circumstances.)

“We’re pleased to see that this story is still making the rounds, and hopefully educating drone operators who may be unfamiliar with the rules and penalties,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece.  

“But we’re even more pleased to see that incidents such as these are relatively rare. The YOW Drone Detection Pilot Project has captured very valuable data over the years – and continues to do so.”

Interested in drone detection and mitigation solutions for your airport, stadium or other sensitive asset? InDro subsidiary Bravo Zulu has multiple options and can be contacted here

Elroy Air’s Chaparral brings long-range, heavy lift cargo solution

Elroy Air’s Chaparral brings long-range, heavy lift cargo solution

By Scott Simmie


Some history has just been made in the world of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM).

On November 12, Elroy Air successfully flew its Chaparral C1 – the first flight of a turbogenerator-hybrid electric vertical take-off and landing (hVTOL) aircraft. The hover test of the full-scale aircraft took place at the company’s test-flight facility in Byron, California.

It’s an important milestone as the world moves toward the AAM era, when new and transformative aircraft will move goods and people to destinations that would have been impractical or too expensive using traditional aircraft.

“This is an exhilarating day for our team and the industry as a whole,” says Elroy Air co-founder and CEO Dave Merrill.

There are plenty of companies competing for this new space with innovative autonomous designs. Some are designed to carry people, cargo, or both. There are several excellent designs out there, but Elroy Air’s Chaparral C1 has been on our radar for reasons you’re about to discover.

Before we get into the history, though, let’s get straight to the news. Here’s a video of the test flight:



Check out the Chaparral C1 on the ground. Take a good look, as we’ll be discussing these features.

Elroy Air Chaparral AAM



Let’s get into why this aircraft will fill a niche.

It’s been designed to move large payloads long distances – and do so efficiently. Humanitarian aid, military resupply and middle-mile logistics are all perfect use-cases for the Chaparral. Its sole purpose is to move significant amounts of cargo efficiently – and be ready for the return trip in minutes.

Here’s the one-floor elevator pitch:

“We’re building an aircraft that will be able to fly 300 miles (483 km) and carry 300 pounds (136 kg) of cargo,” explains Jason Chow, the company’s Director of Strategy and Business Development.

“It’s VTOL, so we don’t need runways. It’s also hybrid electric, so in many situations where there are remote areas, we’re still able to fly where electric power is unavailable.”

Hybrid electric makes sense when you’re after this kind of range, since the craft benefits from the energy density of jet fuel.

“A turboshaft engine powers the batteries, and the batteries power flight,” says Chow.

“One of the most intensive parts of flight is the takeoff portion, where you’re vertically flying upwards. And once you get into forward flight, the turbine is able to throttle back to meet the reduced demand while maintaining battery charge.”

As you can see from the photo, there are eight motors for vertical lift and four for forward propulsion. Once the craft transitions into forward flight, its fixed-wing design brings greater efficiency and range than would be possible with a traditional multi-rotor (which don’t generally have lifting surfaces aside from the rotors themselves).

But while all this looks great, Chaparral’s real secret sauce is its cargo capabilities – which have been designed, literally, from the ground up.

Take a look again at the photo above. Note the design of the wheel struts, as well as the ample space between the bottom of the fuselage and the ground. That’s all for a very specific reason: Chaparral has been designed to carry an aerodynamic, quickly-swappable cargo pod.

Have a look:


Elroy Air Chaparral AAM



Chow says the system is comparable to a tractor-trailer. On a road, the tractor provides the power to move the goods. In the air, “the trailer is the equivalent of the cargo pod. We imagine customers will have multiple cargo pods.”

Those pods can be quickly interchanged on the ground – because the Chaparral’s autonomy abilities aren’t limited to flight. The aircraft can taxi to a predetermined location, lower and disengage a cargo pod, then reposition itself and pick up the next one. You can imagine the advantage of such a system when transporting food or critical medical supplies in an emergency situation. This isn’t simply an aircraft: It’s a delivery system.

It’s also worth noting that the pod has been designed to be compatible with existing infrastructure and tools such as forklifts. As the Elroy Air website explains:

The Palletized Pod uses a fairing-on-pallet design to ease loading of heavy cargo. This configuration features a standardized L-Track system for securing shipments, ensuring simple loading and safe travel for hefty items.”

Below: The Chaparral C1 with the pod snugged up and ready for business…

Elroy Air Chaparral AAM



So, will Elroy Air be a service provider, overseeing autonomous flights for clients? Or will it be producing the Chaparral to be sold to clients who will operate it themselves?

“The current thinking is that we would do both,” explains Chow. “There are a lot of our partners that are very good at operating aircraft: FedEx, Bristow, the United States Air Force. The main thing they do is operate aircraft really well. So in those situations we would sell to them only as the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer).”

“But we also have customers who are interested in what we can provide. So in those situations we could provide the service ourselves or rely on very experienced operators.”

Elroy Air Chaparral Test Flight



Producing an aircraft of this scale – it has a wingspan of 26.3 feet (8.01 metres) and a length of 19.3 feet (5.88 metres) – is no small task. Elroy Air made the decision early on that the most efficient approach would be as a highly selective and meticulous integrator. So its composite fuselage, for example, is outsourced.

“There are folks in the general Advanced Air Mobility industry that are building everything in-house. That’s great, you can own the IP (Intellectual Property) for everything,” says Chow.

“That being said, it takes longer. So our approach has been to be an integrator. We source the best parts to help us get to market – including the generator.”

Elroy Air Chaparral Test Flight



There are a lot of startups in this space, including plenty of newcomers. Elroy Air was formed back in 2016 in San Francisco by Dave Merrill (now CEO) and Clint Cope (Chief Product Officer).

By 2018 the company flight-tested sub-scale Chaparral aircraft and user-tested its automated cargo‑handling systems. The following year it had established a relationship (and contract) with the United States Air Force “enabling Elroy Air to understand and inform the USAF’s operational needs for distributed aerial logistics in contested environments. We developed our custom simulation environment for Chaparral aircraft and ran a successful flight test campaign on an early 1200‑pound, full-scale Chaparral prototype outfitted with an all-electric powertrain.”

The milestones have kept coming. The year 2020 brought refinements to its simulation system, allowing the team to carry out thousands of virtual flights and ground/cargo mission experiments. Development began in earnest that same year on the hybrid-electric powertrain, including multiple turboshaft engine runs.

A Series A financing in 2021 brought in partners Lockheed Martin, Prosperity7 and Marlinspike, who came to the table with $40M. In 2022 an additional $36M in capital arrived, and the company unveiled its C1-1 Chaparral to the public. (The aircraft also made it to the cover of Aviation Week.)

It’s been a careful, methodical journey that has brought the company this far – and it clearly has ambitious plans for the future. If you’d like to read about these milestones in greater detail, you’ll find a company timeline here

But the biggest milestone so far? The flight that opened this story.

“This marks a major moment for the industry as hybrid-electric aircraft enable the dual benefits of runway-independent safe redundant propulsion, and long-range flight well in excess of battery power alone,” says co-founder and CEO Dave Merrill. 

“Our accomplishment puts Elroy Air one step closer to delivering a transformative logistics capability to our customers and partners.”

Elroy Air Chaparral Test Flight



We at InDro obviously have a stake in the future of Advanced Air Mobility. We know from our own work in this field of the pent-up demand for efficient VTOL aircraft that can safely shuttle critical cargo – whether across major cities or to isolated communities lacking runways.

We’ve also been watching, with interest, the companies that are vying for space in this coming market.

“From everything we’ve seen, Chaparral is going to be a perfect fit,” says InDro Robotics President Philip Reece. “It’s cargo capacity and range will really fill a void, and the pod system – complete with its autonomous coupling and decoupling feature – will be hugely advantageous. We congratulate Elroy Air on this milestone, and look forward to seeing a transition flight before long.”

As with all new aircraft, it will take time before certification takes place and the FAA gives Elroy Air its full blessings. We’re confident that not only will that day come – but that Elroy Air and Chaparral will play a significant role in the era of Advanced Air Mobility.

All images supplied with permission by Elroy Air

New LIMO Pro, ROS2 models bring advanced abilities to R&D

New LIMO Pro, ROS2 models bring advanced abilities to R&D

By Scott Simmie


There’s a new robot in town. Actually, there are two of them.

They’re small but mighty. In fact, numerous universities and robotics labs already use their predecessor for high-level research. That original robot, the AgileX LIMO, was a game-changer when it came to an affordable and flexible platform. Boston University currently has a fleet of LIMOs running custom algorithms and simulations related to how real-world autonomous vehicles will interact in the Smart Cities of the future. (It’s really cool research, and you can read all about it here.)

That first LIMO was truly a ground-breaker – and remains an excellent R&D research platform. But now, AgileX has taken things further. Two new versions of LIMO offer advanced hardware, software, runtime – and capabilities.

Below: The original LIMO that started it all…

AgileX Limo Robot



Before we get into the significant changes incorporated into the new models, it’s worth looking at some of the strong features common to all members of the LIMO family. For starters, each LIMO has four steering modes: Omnidirectional steering, tracked steering, Ackerman and four-wheel differential.

All LIMOs are equipped with obstacle detection. Multiple onboard sensors can pick up on the size, distance and location of obstacles, allowing the robot to navigate its environment without conflict. The newer LIMO models have significant enhancements here, which we’ll explore in a moment.

Despite their relatively small size – so small an untrained eye might potentially mistake them for a toy – the LIMOs feature a robust, all-metal build and powerful motor. They also feature powerful onboard EDGE computing suitable to pretty much any R&D requirements.




There are really two main categories of users, with the first being those in the educational field.

“This is a great tool for anyone looking to learn ROS, because they can do all of the advanced concepts – obstacle detection, SLAM, teleoperation, to name a few,” explains Luke Corbeth, Head of InDro’s R&D Sales Division.

“And we make that really simple through our improved documentation. We’ve basically built a course around it, so it can be used for teaching students.”

The other main group of users, of course, are on the research side of things.

“It’s almost always used in labs for multi-agent systems or multiple robot projects. Because it’s multi-modal, when you’re doing a multi-agent system it can be homogenous or heterogeneous, meaning you use different steering in different robots simultaneously.”

Dimensions of all versions of LIMO are identical, as seen below.

AgileX LIMO Robot



The original LIMO is still a great robot – and is currently in use by many universities. But AgileX didn’t rest on its laurels. In response to the availability of new technologies – along with a wish-list from existing clients – the company has taken things further with its new LIMO PRO and the LIMO ROS2.

“Obviously as research in autonomy advances, so do the computational requirements,” explains Corbeth. “So it’s very important as a robotics manufacturer to stay ahead of the curve so that the hardware meets up with the current research requirements of the day.”

To that end, the new versions feature upgrades on computational power, sensors and run-time.

“The big difference is in compute – we’re moving from the Jetson Xavier to the Jetson Orin Nano on the LIMO PRO and the INTEL NUC on the LIMO ROS2. Both of these are actually massive upgrades.”

The Orin Nano is a very powerful EDGE computer. That power translates into more stable multi-sensor data fusion and speed with SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) processing.

Speaking of SLAM, the LIMO PRO and LIMO ROS2 come with a new LiDAR unit. While the original LIMO used the very capable EAI X2L unit, the new versions come with the EAI T-mini Pro.

“Plus, the battery in the new unit goes from an hour of run-time to 2-1/2 hours – with a standby of four hours,” adds Corbeth.




Not surprisingly, the two new versions also feature some software upgrades. The LIMO PRO and ROS2 versions come with Ubuntu 20.04 (the original LIMO runs version 18.04). In terms of ROS (Robot Operating System) libraries, the first generation LIMO is outfitted with ROS1 Melodic. The LIMO PRO features both ROS1 Noetic and ROS2 Foxy. The LIMO ROS2 has ROS2 Humble onboard.

Already have some of the first-generation LIMOs in your lab? No problem.

“The new models can co-exist with the original LIMO,” says Corbeth. “And if the computing demands are higher than previous applications, it makes sense of have a blend of models.”

The graphic below outlines the feature sets of the three models:

LIMO Robot Canada



InDro Robotics has a lot of clients who have put the original LIMO to use in labs and educational institutes across North America. Boston University has a very large fleet of LIMOs deployed – hard at work on multiple research projects related to Smart Cities and autonomous vehicles. They’ve proven to be a robust, cost-effective tool for high-level research.

And now, with the fresh release of LIMO PRO and LIMO ROS2, there are two more affordable options.

“This is a significant development for anyone looking to expand their current fleet of LIMOS, as well as those who have been waiting in the wings for an upgrade,” says Corbeth. “These are incredibly powerful and versatile robots/research tools, with the added bonus that the entire line is very affordable.”

If you’re interested in learning more, InDro Robotics is the exclusive distributor of AgileX in Canada, as well as a distributor for all of North America. We have built excellent documentation and manuals to assist users ranging from beginning to expert – and all of that added value and support comes with every purchase made through InDro.

For more information from someone who really knows their stuff, contact Luke Corbeth here.

BC’s Helijet announces purchase of eVTOL in Advanced Air Mobility milestone

BC’s Helijet announces purchase of eVTOL in Advanced Air Mobility milestone

By Scott Simmie


Canada has just taken a major step forward into the coming world of Advanced Air Mobility, or AAM.

Vancouver-based Helijet International, Inc. has announced the purchase of an eVTOL aircraft for crewed operations in British Columbia. The ALIA 250 eVTOL (electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing) is manufactured by US-based BETA Technologies and will bring a critical step toward sustainable passenger flight to Helijet, as well as service to additional locations.

The announcement took place at Helijet’s facility in Vancouver on October 31 and was attended by BC Premier David Eby, Helijet CEO Danny Sitnam, BETA’s Skye Carapetyan, as well as JR Hammond, the Executive Director of the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium (CAAM). Indro Robotics CEO Philip Reece was also there for the announcement, as InDro is an Industry Partner in CAAM and has partnered with Helijet on other AAM initiatives (more on that later).

“This provincial government recognizes the potential of advanced air mobility to decarbonize the aviation sector, improve regional connectivity, improve emergency response times and introduce new manufacturing opportunities in our province,” said Premier Eby. “We congratulate Helijet on their exciting news and look forward to British Columbia becoming a leader in the Advanced Air Mobility sector.”

Though the aircraft is not yet certified, flight testing in the US is well underway. BETA intends to certify the aircraft for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) operations. Eventually, the aircraft will supplement the existing Helijet fleet – offering additional services to locations where the higher cost of traditional helicopter operations have traditionally made flights impractical.

“The introduction of eVTOL aircraft will not only enhance the passenger experience but also elevate Helijet’s capacity to provide essential services such as emergency response, air ambulance, and organ transfers,” says a news release issued by CAAM.

“This innovation is a crucial step forward in enhancing the overall well-being of communities in the Lower Mainland and remote regions.”

As an example of how the new eVTOL will help, Helijet CEO Danny Sitnam looked ahead to urgent medical deliveries between Vancouver hospitals “at a much lower cost, with no carbon footprint, and a quieter environment for the people below.”

Before we dive in, here’s a look at the aircraft. And while this graphic was created for the news release, don’t worry – the BETA ALIA 250 is very much a real machine.


Helijet BETA AAM



You’ve perhaps heard of Advanced Air Mobility. If you haven’t, here’s a little primer.

You can think of AAM as the next evolution in air transport. We like this high-level definition from BAE Systems:

“Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) is an air transport system concept that integrates new, transformational aircraft designs and flight technologies into existing and modified airspace operations.”

Those new innovative aircraft designs will have a low carbon footprint, and generally fall within these three design categories:

  • Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL). You can think here of air taxis, patient transfers, cross-town trips in dense urban areas, and more. These machines will take off and land from Vertiports, which have a small footprint advantageous to urban centres
  • Electric Conventional Take-Off & Landing (eCTOL). These would be electrified or hybrid fixed-wing aircraft that still require runways but are more efficient to operate (and much greener) than conventional aircraft. Likely used for short trips, carrying passengers and cargo from regional and rural locations.
  • Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS). You can think here of drones, or Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). These will be commonplace delivering critical goods and medical supplies, both within urban centres and to nearby communities. They will share controlled airspace with other traditional aircraft, though their operations will likely be restricted to designated flight corridors to avoid any conflict.

Initially, the transition to the world of AAM will involve crewed aircraft in the eVTOL and eCTOL space. In other words, there will be a human being piloting those aircraft. As the system and technologies advance, however, automation will take on a greater role, Pilots will be on board monitoring those autonomous flights, until a stage is reached where the flights are fully autonomous.

That’s a ways down the road. But the gears of this machinery are very much in motion. The FAA already has a blueprint for AAM and flight corridors. A large number of companies are working on new and innovative aircraft designs utilising electric, hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell propulsion. And the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium (CAAM) is working closely with regulators and the industry to advance the transition.

Speaking of CAAM, we also like its AAM definition:

“Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) is the evolution of air transportation created by an ecosystem of new technologies allowing people, goods, and services to move within urban and regional areas safely.”

And let’s not forget about the low carbon footprint. That’s also a big part of this revolution. Canada (and many other countries) have committed to Net Zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. That means our economy is expected to achieve that goal either by switching to technologies that emit no greenhouse gas emissions – or activities that offset those emissions (such as tree planting).

And while long-range passenger jets pose a greater technological challenge when it comes to electrification or hybrid power sources, there’s a lot of air traffic in urban areas. Plus, the use of green aircraft for goods delivery reduces the reliance on internal combustion-based ground vehicles. InDro Robotics, for example, has flown COVID test supplies from remote island communities by drone, as well as prescription medications to isolated communities. These deliveries would have traditionally relied on ground transport and ferries.

If you’re interested in learning more about AAM, we’ve written a pretty extensive primer here.

Now let’s get back to Helijet.

Below: The BETA ALIA 250 in a hover test:




BETA is building two aircraft: The eVTOL purchased by Helijet, as well as a cTOL – an electric, fixed-wing aircraft that requires a runway. Both employ a patented electric propulsion system and utilise batteries with a high energy density. They also each have a wingspan of just over 15 metres (50 feet) and can carry five passengers (or equivalent cargo) plus a pilot.

BETA started with a small but highly committed team. In less than 10 months, its first full-scale prototype, AVA, went from the drawing board to crewed test flights. Since then, BETA has grown considerably and received significant investment. In 2019, it began work on the ALIA aircraft. The company says its design was inspired by the Arctic Tern; engineers say biomimicry played a role in the design of the aircraft’s wings and long sweeping tail.

While BETA partnered with many suppliers for components of the aircraft, the company developed its own proprietary electric motor (no small feat). In 2021, ALIA flew its maiden crewed flight.

It wasn’t long before the design started catching the attention of others. UPS ordered 10 ALIA aircraft – and reserved 140 more. The US Air Force was impressed enough that it issued a special Military Flight Release. This allowed the company to carry out experimental flights with the Air Force. BETA also closed a $368M Series A funding round; Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund was one of the investors. So the company has been on an impressive trajectory.

The company builds its own charging cubes, which will be installed much like Tesla chargers. In fact, the ALIA cTOL flew 2400 miles (3840 km) over seven states in 2022, with the longest leg just shy of 300 miles (480 km). It stopped to charge on the company’s own infrastructure charging network. Down the road, you can picture some of these charging cubes at destinations the eVTOL will serve for Helijet. Those destinations won’t require runways or traditional aviation fuel.

Below: An ALIA cTOL gets some juice from the BETA charging cube:







The BETA ALIA eVTOL won’t be making its appearance with Helijet next week, next month – or even next year. There’s still the lengthy certification process to go before the aircraft can be put into commercial use.

But the announcement is still highly significant. It signals a commitment on the part of Helijet, CAAM, and the Government of British Columbia toward a low-carbon AAM world. It will open the door to servicing communities that currently do not have an affordable option for air transportation or deliveries.

And, according to BC Premier Eby, it’s a perfect fit for the province.

“British Columbia – we’re a quiet champion when it comes to the aerospace industry. One of Kelowna’s biggest employers, KF Aerospace, is obviously in the industry. We also have Cascade Aerospace out in Abbotsford – the biggest employer in the valley. And we have companies like InDro Robotics – and the CEO is here today – using large drones to deliver to remote and rural First Nations Communities out of Vancouver.”

And while Helijet’s new purchase won’t be in service for the immediate future – it’s definitely going to happen. And that’s a very big deal.

“We will soon gather again to celebrate the inaugural flight of the ALIA 250 eVTOL aircraft with Helijet,” said JR Hammond, Executive Director of CAAM. “And that day will make another historic milestone on our journey towards an interconnected aviation ecosystem.” 

Helijet started 37 years ago with a single helicopter and a handful of employees; it’s now North America’s largest scheduled helicopter airline. Company President and CEO Danny Sitman says this is a natural evolution.

“We were disrupting aviation 37 years ago…Today marks another significant milestone, not just for us but for all British Columbians… We have made a firm order for four aircraft at this time, with an option for four more. It’s an exciting time for aviation right now.”

And it is.

Below: The BETA ALIA cTOL in flight




InDro Robotics has a vested interest in the coming world of Advanced Air Mobility. We have carried out multiple missions, pilot projects and research tests related to this next phase in aviation. In fact, one of them has been in conjunction with Helijet.

InDro recently flew from Helijet’s Vancouver Harbour facility, piloting our drone through a flight corridor designed to virtually eliminate any potential conflict with crewed aviation – while still flying in a dense urban centre with regular air traffic.

We also used that flight to map the strength of 5G cellular signals at different altitudes – data that will be useful in the coming AAM world of automated BVLOS drone flights. We have also long been committed to sustainable, low-carbon footprint technologies.

“We’re pleased to see Helijet take the lead by committing to a sustainable, passenger-carrying eVTOL,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece. “We are truly on the cusp of a transformative phase in aviation, and we applaud Helijet, CAAM and BETA on today’s important announcement. I look forward to a flight in the ALIA when it enters service here in BC.”

Indro Robotics builds Street Smart Inspection Robot for safe cycling in winter

Indro Robotics builds Street Smart Inspection Robot for safe cycling in winter

By Scott Simmie


The safety of pedestrians and cyclists is important in any major city.

Bike lanes and crosswalks are the most obvious signs that we create infrastructure for this purpose. But there are limits to what that infrastructure can do.

Winter, for example, creates additional threats. Ice and snow are the most obvious problems, but potholes and deep puddles can also cause havoc – particularly for cyclists. Snow can accumulate quickly in a storm – and it’s not uncommon for snow plowed from the roadway to sometimes spill over into bike lanes (and even on sidewalks).

That’s part of the reason why Indro Robotics has built an innovative solution that will be put to the test this winter. It’s called the Street Smart Robot, or SSR – and it’s been designed from the ground up to help ensure safe winter cycling.

Below: A Wikimedia Commons image, taken in Whitehorse by Anthony DeLorenzo. Cyclists in Canada are a hardy bunch.

SSR Winter cyclist



The catalyst for the SSR is a research and development partnership fund called the Wintertech Development Program. According to the program website, Wintertech “supports Ontario small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and their partners to validate, test, prototype, and demonstrate new products and technologies designed to meet the unique demands of winter weather conditions.”

Wintertech is run by OVIN, the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network. That’s a province of Ontario initiative which “capitalizes on the economic potential of advanced automotive technologies and smart mobility solutions such as connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), and electric and low-carbon vehicle technologies, while enabling the province’s transportation and infrastructure networks to plan for and adapt to this evolution.”

And while bicycles aren’t connected and autonomous vehicles (at least yet), we felt robotics could play a role in helping to ensure the safety of cyclists in the Smart City of the future. Specifically, we thought an autonomous robot equipped with the right sensors and processing might help to detect safety issues in bike lanes in the winter.

“The idea behind the robot is we want to prolong the use of bike lanes in Ottawa, but also ensure the safety of bike lanes in Ottawa,” explains Indro Robotics Account Executive Luke Corbeth.

“There’s really two parts to this: The first is a machine vision element to see if conditions are good enough for biking – no ice, not too many leaves, etc. On the safety side, the Street Smart Robot is more concerned with detecting things like potholes and cracks. And the idea is if you’re able to identify those things, the right resources can be deployed faster and more efficiently to solve the problem in a timely manner.”

So that’s the idea behind the SSR. Now, let’s take a look at the technology.

Below: A look at the specs of the AgileX Bunker Pro platform. We’ve upgraded the battery for a four-hour run time:

Bunker Pro Robot



If you’re going to be out and about in an Ottawa winter – where temperatures have reached as low as -33°C – you need a platform suitable for the environment. InDro selected the AgileX Bunker Pro as the starting point.

With an IP67 Ingress Protection rating, the Bunker Pro is highly impervious to water and particulate matter – which it will encounter in abundance on Ottawa streets. The treads give an edge over wheels when it comes to navigating over ice, snow and potholes. With a full charge, the platform can run for some four hours – even when it’s cold out.

But the platform is just the start. InDro engineers had to put considerable thought into the kinds of sensors that would help the Street Smart Robot carry out its task while safely avoiding cyclists, pedestrians, or other obstacles it might encounter. And that began with four wide-angle pinhole cameras.

“The pinholes are just to give the operator a better understanding of their environment and situational awareness,” explains Corbeth. And while we say “operator” here, it might be more appropriate to say “observer.” Though initial deployments will involve teleoperation, the SSR has been built to carry out its tasks autonomously. We anticipate that down the road (or bike path), a person will simply be involved in monitoring missions in case human intervention is required.

That autonomy will be carried out by a combination of computing power, our InDro Autonomy software stack, and a plethora of sensors.




The Street Smart Robot is equipped with front- and rear-facing depth cameras. These cameras have two visual sensors each, placed roughly the same distance apart as human eyes. That separation – as in human vision – allows the SSR to perceive the world in depth. Onboard computation (we’ll get to that) calculates how far obstacles might be in the robot’s immediate surroundings, and whether it needs to slow down, stop or change course to avoid obstacles.

The depth cameras are supplemented by two 270° 2D LiDAR sensors – which are devoted almost exclusively to obstacle avoidance and safety. There are two additional 3D LiDARS, placed to assist with Simultaneous Localization and Mapping, as well as a GPS and IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit). There’s even a Range Finder that can detect how far an object is off the ground.

“If you have an overhanging tree branch, for example, you could see where it is and see if it obscures the bike lane,” says Corbeth. “We’ve never used a Range Finder before, but could see it would be useful in this application.”

In addition, there’s a thermal/30X optical Pan-Tilt-Zoom camera, complete with a windshield wiper for those sloppy days.

Below: Check out what the SSR has on board.

Inspection Robot



All of those sensors are great. But they don’t do a lot on their own. They require software and computational power to give their data meaning. Here, the SSR has a Jetson ORIN AGX for EDGE computing. The ROS2 operating system software lives onboard in InDro Commander – a module we’ve created for rapid integration of sensors and 5G remote operations. Commander can be thought of as the glue that holds everything together.

But still, there’s the issue of making sense of the data. How will the Street Smart Robot identify ice, water, leaves, snow, potholes, debris etc? And how will it determine whether they are significant enough to require a City of Ottawa maintenance crew to take action?

Here, the SSR will be going to school. And by that, we mean a combination of Machine Vision and Machine Learning will teach it what’s worth reporting and what isn’t. One way is to take actual images you expect to see on the bike path and identify which ones are significant and which can be ignored.

“For example, you could mount a camera on an actual bicycle and then use that dataset to train the robot,” says Corbeth. “But there are a couple of approaches. There’s also obviously the simulation element. You can use specific engines that have high-fidelity graphics to simulate possible different environments in high resolution. And you can use that simulated data for training.”




In the early stages, there will be a human operator at the helm. They’ll likely see some of those obstacles with the pinhole cameras, but from the start we anticipate that the onboard AI will trigger an alert for the operator. Once the operator confirms that the image is worthy of the attention of a maintenance crew, they will contact the city directly.

That’s how things will start. Once we’ve established a high confidence level that the Machine Vision is correctly identifying anomalies, that process can be automated. The SSR will be programmed to automatically send an alert to the city, complete with a captured image of the potential problem and GPS coordinates.

“It’s the idea of anomaly detection – detecting and flagging anomalies. The SSR will also likely be able to identify the severity of the anomaly on a one-to-five scale. And because you have the GPS onboard, the exact location of the problem can be relayed to the city.”

Below: The SSR, during its public unveiling at the TCXpo exhibition in June. Front and rear view, to show off all its bits…


Street Smart Robot



Every technical achievement owes something to its predecessors. And that’s no different with the Street Smart Robot.

InDro Robotics previously built Sentinel, a workhorse for remote asset inspection. That robot incorporated an AgileX Bunker platform, an InDro Commander integration module for sensors and remote teleoperations, and several other sensors. It’s a great robot that has proven itself in the most demanding conditions.

The Street Smart Robot builds on the success and learnings of Sentinel with additional compute power, many more sensors, a more robust design and extended operational range. And that opens the SSR up to many other tasks beyond bicycle paths.

“That’s what really excites me about this project – the idea that this technology is transferable across other inspection verticals,” says Corbeth. “This particular robot could be used in agriculture, and the track platform is really good in mining. I could envision this exact same robot in those two verticals, and others.”




When dealing with multiple sensors in real-time, a solid data bandwidth is crucial. Here, SSR is outfitted with a high-speed modem and special antennaes for optimizing 5G and 4G signals. And while the Street Smart Robot can be operated over 4G, it’s 5G that offers the pipeline necessary for the data to really flow. InDro’s continuing partnership with Rogers will ensure that the SSR has access to Canada’s largest and most reliable 5G network.

Both InDro and Rogers are contributing a significant amount of development money as part of the OVIN Wintertech program. The total value of the project is estimated at $1,395,000. InDro Robotics and Rogers Communications are contributing twothirds of the total project value ($780,000 and $150,000). Support from the Government of Ontario, through OVIN, totals $465,000 or one-third of the project. 

Below: Innovations in the InDro Sentinel paved the way for the Street Smart Robot. This image was taken at the opening of the Drone and Advanced Robot Training and Testing facility (DARTT) in June of 2023. That’s Luke Corbeth holding the microphone.

Sentinel water DARTT



We’re pretty excited about the SSR. As Luke Corbeth says: “It’s a bad-ass robot.”

And it is. But we’re also excited about the project itself.

The Smart City of the future will have connected, embedded sensors (including on robots) helping with everything from traffic flow to updated weather and road conditions. Cyclists are a big part of any major urban centre, and the prospect of helping to ensure their safety appeals to us. It’s also an opportunity to really hone in on Machine Vision and Machine Learning as InDro trains the SSR for its task.

“Smart Cities are on their way, and it’s great to be involved in yet another project as we build the capacity for the future,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece.

“The Street Smart Robot has an important role to play, and could well be the template for anomaly detection and road maintenance at scale in the future. We’re grateful to OVIN and its Wintertech program for selecting this project for development; we’re excited to see what the SSR can do.”

InDro plans to start testing the SSR during the winter, with the project stretching to June of 2024. We’ll be writing more once the robot hits the bike paths.