Former U.S. Army veteran (Intelligence Field) & Author
In case, you heard news about the US military employing a drone to kill or capture a terrorist at any time between 2004 to 2010; there are a decent odds Brett Velicovich is in some way behind it.
Brett Velicovich is an ex-special operation intelligence analyst as well as he served in the period when UAVs went from a showpiece to a vital component of each special ops mission.
He accepted My Dear Drone request to an interview on counter-drone and his role in WhiteFox company. We were privileged to have the chance to got the sort of in-depth conversation you will not see on TV.
We talked regarding the real part that unmanned aerial vehicles play in battle, how he is making use of his military skills to create commercial applications of drone systems and how his business is planning to safeguard our airspace from drone threats.
To start, tell us a bit about yourself for our readers
I’m a former U.S. Army veteran that specialized in the intelligence field. I spent most of my time overseas in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan using some of the most sophisticated drones in the U.S. government’s arsenal to hunt down terrorists.
I was what most people in the business refer to as a “targeter”, so I didn’t pilot the drones, I directed them and had the drones working for me to hunt down terrorists I deemed a threat to the U.S. I primarily dealt with Predator and Reaper drones, often having multiple ones flying for me at a time.
How did you first get started in drones, personally?
The first time I ever held a drone was in Afghanistan in 2004 just after turning 21yrs old in the war zone. One of the special forces guys working with me brought me what was called a Raven, which was a handheld drone that could fly a few kilometers over the horizon.
It was fascinating to me as we flew it up and down an airfield we were living. I then crashed it. After that, drones became more proficient, and I was using them in nearly every aspect of my intelligence work.
How would summarize the work you do with drones – business, pleasure or both?
Both, I fly drones for business and pleasure all the time. It is rare to find me without a drone wherever I go. I enjoy getting my hands on the latest and greatest drone tech and then putting it to the test.
You served as an intelligence expert for the U.S. Army. Is it contributed to your understanding of the counter-drone sector?
Yes, being in the Army has allowed me to provide a better understanding of others regarding how we protect and defend government installations. It’s one thing to build impressive defense technology, but knowing how soldiers on the ground will employ it is incredibly essential.
There is a lot of counter-drone tech out there that is just smoke and mirrors, using the technology in a real-world environment with the government organizations that will use them quickly sets aside the ones that don’t work.
We see you are appointed WhiteFox’s new Strategic Advisor? Tell us about the experience
Working with WhiteFox has been incredible, and I wouldn’t put my name to a company that I didn’t believe had the right solution needed to combat the threat of drones.
Bringing my experience from both the defense and commercial drone technology sector has allowed me to advise the senior leadership of the company at a level other without expertise on both sides of the fight can’t.
WhiteFox offers a complete counter-drone solution. What are the products or services you touch on?
DroneFox is a portable, SWaP-C optimized solution which uses a novel technique to track and take temporary control over drones: a master signal which enables its operator to select from dynamic responses set including the return to launch, land, reroute, and confiscate.Unlike other non-kinetic items and jammers, the DroneFox will select the correct signal it desires to manipulate, with no interference with some other signals-even any drones.
The WhiteFox core technology provides personnel the capability to protect from reckless drone usage while allowing “friendly” quadcopters to freely fly and continue on the work they are doing to impact society positively.
Several members of WhiteFox have military flying backgrounds. How does that translate to increasing your customer traction?
The customers in the counter-drone industry right now are primarily government and militaries, so having military experience within the company is invaluable.
These clients see that WhiteFox can look at it from less of a consumer lens and integrate military skills to make the product that much more tailored to the solutions these customers require.
Tell us a few words on your company’s significant awards, achievements, and recognition to date?
We closed a “Series Seed” round in December month bring our grand funding raised to $14m. In 2018 September, the team is invited to take part in the exclusive Black Dart Counter UAS event, the biggest counter-UAS exercise on the globe.
We have also received broad industry recognition to our technology, securing the first place to ‘Security and Counter UAS’ from the AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International) at Xponential Awards in May 2018.
What will you hope to achieve in your drone work in the next few years?
I want consumers to get better educated about both the dangers and benefits of drones.
I want people to know that counter-drone doesn’t mean anti-drone either, we need more drones in the sky that do things outside of a military mission and to do that we need counter-drone solutions in place, so our government feels comfortable allowing more drones in the sky.
What are some common backgrounds of your clients? Do you get a lot of startups, or is it companies looking to detect & stop drone threats?
We work with a range of customers which includes critical infrastructure, airports, military bases, power plants, prisons, stadiums, dignitary protection, law enforcement and large public gatherings such as parades, sporting events, and festivals.
Have you crashed a drone? If so, can you say us what happened?
Well the first time I had a military drone, The Raven, I crashed it as I mentioned before.
Ironically, the first time I flew a consumer drone, I collided that one as well.
My wife and I just bought a DJI Inspire 1 and were so excited the first time it took off that we couldn’t stop hi-fiving each other from the excitement and fun of flying it.
I think a lot of times the first time people fly a drone they get that same feeling, that it’s unbelievable how much fun it is.
Well, that excitement quickly faded when we slammed it into a pole at a park shortly after…that’s when I learned how to repair a drone.
What do you think of the present state of drone privacy – do you think the FAA is doing an excellent job with regulations and licensing?
It’s a work in progress. We believe the best approach will be to balance consumer and commercial operators’ desires for anonymous flying with the public’s need for a true identity of pilots.
Where do you see drone airspace security headed in 5 years? 10 years?
I believe one day we will have to re-define how we think about fences. For centuries we have put fences around our properties to keep people out, but we never thought of keeping people out from the air. I believe we will one day have personal geo-fences to prevent drones from peering into our backyards.
What is your advice for drone pilots for a safer sky? What are some mistakes they can avoid?
Just understand the laws. There is a lot of details out there, some misleading, about where you can and can’t fly. Many people fly illegally and don’t even know it. It’s just about educating yourself and staying safe.
What do you feel the biggest misconceptions is of drones?
The biggest misconceptions are that they are always spying on people or are hard to fly.
What types of occurrences could cause a person being sued or charged for shooting down a drone?
Many people who don’t know better think you can shoot down a drone with a gun if it’s flying over your property. You almost can’t blame them, because if a drone were spying on your family and maybe trying to view something inappropriately, you would want to do everything in your power to stop it too.
But the fact is, the aerial view is a public view as it stands now in most cases. So if that drone is flying over your property and you shoot it down with a shotgun, then you are the one who could get arrested or sued for destruction of property. So it’s essential people understand that.
You passionately called the ‘Drone Warrior,’ how did you get the name in the first place?
The publisher of my book gave me that name, and it felt fitting since I deal with so many aspects of the drone industry. I work with counter-drone, but I also focus on drones for good, using them in varying capacities to help solve some of the world’s major humanitarian crisis’. So that nickname feels like it is all-encompassing for my goals of sharing the benefits of drone technology with the world.
Though it is still a fairly young market, are you hearing regarding lawsuits and/or UAV accidents based on technical malfunctions or improper operation of UAVs?
There are plenty of accidents that occur with UAVs and operators’ improper use.
That’s just the result of more aircraft in the sky.
I know that the drone manufacturers regularly get legal letters from customers that believe the UAV malfunctioned in some way and believe the manufacturers are responsible.
However, many times its operator error.
These manufacturers are continually trying to create tech to make the drones safer and more automated, so accidents don’t happen in the future.