Drone at stadium

Drone takes flight at Bridgeforth Stadium

Alexis Miller | The Breeze

The hard work of JMU and local business Blue Vigil took flight Friday when the two-year-old startup sent their drone-powered tether system soaring over Bridgeforth Stadium.

Blue Vigil’s platform provides a low-altitude aerial vantage point that has the ability to carry cameras, sensors and radio equipment into the air without the dependence of someone on the ground.

With the collaborative efforts of both Blue Vigil and the office of Technology Innovation and Economic Development at JMU, Blue Vigil was selected by the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer to be in the Top 40 “Best University Startups of 2017.”

Gerard Eldering, co-founder of Blue Vigil, explained how his business activity’s been focused around finding technologies at universities that have the potential to be something more. Once he finds it, his team builds a startup around that technology.

While at the University of Kansas, Eldering’s team found drone tethering technologies that were developed in the 1980s. Even though the system was outdated, Eldering saw the possibilities behind it.

“It was a really good product idea, and we could build it,” Eldering said. “So we said let’s go and we formed a company who could start building the product.”

There are limitations that certain drones have, including limited flight time, battery changes and dedicated operators on the ground. With this new tethering system, those limitations don’t exist.

“It’s the freedom and the ability to put the drone up and leave it,” Eldering said. “Imagine the police are observing a hostage situation. With a traditional drone with a battery in it, they would need to take it down in about 15 to 20 minutes to charge it up again.”

With the updated tethering system, there is no need for an operator on the ground and the constant power traveling through a 150-foot power cable provides the drone with an unlimited amount of flight time.

Todd Stave is the CEO of Blue Vigil and expects that its product will provide vital assistance to certain groups whose job requires a drone to stay in the air longer.

“We are marketing to law enforcement, first responders, news media and we have had a lot of interest from the communication community,” Stave said. “From a business perspective, the big limitation now is that we simply can’t produce them fast enough.”

Blue Vigil has a plan and Stave expects that by summertime, will be able to produce them at a faster pace.

Blue Vigil has also been invited to participate in University Startups Conference and Demo Day at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The event raises awareness of the vital role that universities play in the formation of potential startups and the creation of jobs.

“It gets us out there,” Eldering said. “It’s the visibility. When people find out that Blue Vigil has been accepted for that, it just increases the excitement about the company.”

Mary Lou Bourne, director of technology innovation and economic development at JMU, aids in the development and promotion of local technological startups.

“My role in this is bringing the pieces and people together,” Bourne said. “The creation and innovation of startups that can then become companies, make funding and eventually employ people too. That’s the goal.”

While Blue Vigil has accomplished a lot for being a young and developing company, Stave acknowledges that it still has a long way to go to develop its system even further.

“The commercial dead-battery backup system that we are developing will not only have the ability to take a second battery that can be used for take-offs and landings, but also will charge the battery while in hover,” Stave said. “One of the other things we are looking into is developing the ability to run camera data down the cable itself.”

Bourne is thrilled with not only the successful collaboration between the two organizations, but also the JMU community.

“Everything is about trusted relationships,” Bourne said. “Startups are happening in Harrisonburg, and it’s showing that students can do this too and that this is possible.”

Contact Karey Gardner at gardneke@dukes.jmu.edu.

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