HOLLADAY — Next time someone wanders off-trail in the High Uintas, imagine search and rescue teams having the ability to deploy, say, a hundred drones that can access any terrain, fly in virtually any weather, communicate with each other, pick out a lost person wandering in the woods with incredible accuracy, and even deliver water, food and other supplies until help arrives.

Oh, and because each of the vehicles has its own onboard computing power, including an artificial intelligence-driven operating platform, the vehicles can “see,” navigate, fly and even coordinate search routes independent of a human operator.

Sounds like a futurescape, but it’s a reality that is about to be in reach thanks to Utah-based Teal Drones and it’s just released, next-generation Golden Eagle drone.

Teal founder/CEO George Matus likened the evolution of drone vehicle technology to that of the cellphone.

“The way I thought about it when we first started was kind of like the brick phones from back in the day,” Matus said. “Having a single use device, a cellphone that was only capable of making a call and maybe sending a text is so far removed from the smartphone of today.

“That’s not too different with what has been happening with drones, which have for so long been not much more than a flying camera.”

Teal’s Golden Eagle, for sure, has a camera. A high-resolution 4K sensor unit as well as a forward-looking infrared thermographic camera, optimizing use for variable light conditions including low light and no light; an onboard Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 mobile computing platform; data security that includes Advanced Encryption Standard security with a 256-bit key length; obstacle avoidance system and onboard artificial intelligence to enable autonomous flight; and a modular design that allows easy and fast swap out of components to minimize downtime.

The Teal Drones Golden Eagle is the Utah-based companies latest flyer. The next-generation vehicle was developed, in part, via a U.S Department of Defense competitive innovation program. The artificial intelligence-enabled drone has on onboard computer, can fly over 50 m.p.h. and is resilient to all but the most extreme weather conditions. | Teal Drones

The vehicle has a rugged airframe, can fly up to 50 minutes on a charge and cruise in excess of 50 mph. High-voltage propulsion enables the Golden Eagle to fly in winds of 30 mph or more and temperatures from negative 32 degrees Fahrenheit to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also very stealthy with a low acoustic signature that, according to the company, makes it inaudible at minimum ranges.

Teal hit a lot of elevated drone performance marks established by the Defense Department while in development, but Matus noted those same metrics give the new drone a lot of potential in commercial markets with broad uses envisioned for agriculture, surveying, construction, energy and logistics. And fast-expanding drone use is driving an industry that’s showing a steep upward curve with Barclay’s estimating the global commercial drone market will expand tenfold in the next five years, reaching a value of $40 billion.

While the capabilities of the Golden Eagle — along with a $12,000 price tag for the vehicle and operational package that puts it squarely in the realm of commercial and “pro-sumer” markets — ease of use is still a major development tenet for Teal.

“One of the first things anyone is going to notice about the Golden Eagle is how easy it is to fly,” Matus said. “It’s onboard intelligence makes it almost impossible to crash. It can fly in any sort of weather and users will feel like it’s an extension of themselves.”

To be sure, the vehicle also has a slew of much more somber potential uses and came into being in part thanks to a competitive U.S. Department of Defense development contract that helped accelerate the work Holladay-based Teal has been engaged in since launching in 2014.

On Aug. 20, the Defense Department announced Teal Drones as one of only five companies approved to provide compact high-tech remote vehicles to U.S. government entities.

The news comes on the heels of a growing list of restrictions on Chinese-manufactured drones that began with the Army in 2017, moved to the entire Defense Department in 2018, and is now being considered for governmentwide implementation under pending federal legislation titled the American Security Drone Act.

U.S. military operations have been on the hunt for a rugged, portable, nimble and highly secure option to the Chinese manufactured drones that have come to dominate the consumer and commercial drone markets in the U.S. and around the world. That search was accelerated as numerous issues and allegations arose in the past few years focused on China-based drone maker DJI and its data flow and data privacy policies.

A 2019 missive from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security referenced concerns about foreign-made vehicles with language that, while ominous, did not mention any manufacturer by name.

“The United States government has strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access,” the notice read.

“Those concerns apply with equal force to certain Chinese-made (unmanned aircraft system)-connected devices capable of collecting and transferring potentially revealing data about their operations and the individuals and entities operating them, as China imposes unusually stringent obligations on its citizens to support national intelligence activities.”

The Golden Eagle has been designed for use on the front lines of military conflict. Matus noted that while its current configuration is optimized for surveillance and reconnaissance duties, the vehicle has a four-pound payload capacity that would easily accommodate both lethal and non-lethal weaponry.

“The Golden Eagle is capable right now of being armed with guns or bombs that are enabled with artificial intelligence to accurately target an enemy,” Matus said. “But use of those weapons would still require the participation and confirmation of an actual person.

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“There are also use cases for law enforcement to use the same capacity but for non-lethal payloads.”

Matus said he and his team take very seriously potential uses that include weaponizing the drones they make, but are driven by the idea that these applications can play a role in saving lives and building a safer world.

With the official release of the Golden Eagle, Matus is hoping to mark a resurgence of U.S.-made drones and sees opportunity for growth not only for his company, but the entirety of the domestic drone industry.

“China has been beating us, and beating us badly, in the drone market,” Matus said. “I’m hoping we can be a part of bringing back the American drone industrial base.”

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