Tech On The Tundra: Drone Technology With Botlink

by on Feb 6, 2017


Photos by Paul Flessland, above photo: Terri Zimmerman, CEO and Cofounder of Botlink (left) and Alex Kube, Chief Strategy Office and Cofounder of Botlink

Even though there are many miles between our chilly region and Silicon Valley, North Dakota is definitely not late to the party when it comes to utilizing technology on the rise. And you might not have known it, but these industries are exponentially growing right here before your very eyes. We dove into a few of these popular sectors of the technology industry that are being developed locally and making an impact all over the nation– not just for businesses, but for people just like you, too.


Drone technology in North Dakota is more advanced than you might think, and it’s all happening right before your eyes. As one of the cofounders and the chief strategy officer of Botlink, a local drone start-up, Alex Kube is well-versed in the current and future state of drones, their use in the business world and how everyday consumers like you can benefit from this current (and important) rise in technology.

Botlink’s Role

Botlink is a Fargo-based company that provides hardware and software systems that allow drone users to collect, distribute and act on drone data. Once you actually have a drone, what do you do with it? How do you use it without completely disrupting your existing business workflow? Although they’re not an actual drone manufacturer, (the drones they do build are used for testing), that’s where Botlink comes in. And not just in Fargo, but all over the nation.

“Really, what people want to do with drones is use them to make their existing business more efficient. The value in a drone is using it to capture data. So we (Botlink) want to make that process of capturing data, processing that data and actually using it to make business decisions more effective,” said Kube.

botlink drones

Instead of flying your drone and waiting for it to come back to upload your data, Botlink provides value with hardware called the Botlink XRD, which is a small cellular device that sits on the back of your drone and allows users to send and receive data in real time.

“We can start processing the data faster and then with our cloud services, we can process it faster than you could just on your desktop. Another thing that drives a lot of value is that we’ve connected our software with existing industry software. For example, if you’re a construction manager, we have integrations that will sync your drone data into your current construction management software,” said Kube.

Utilizing Drone Technology

The drone industry, as a whole, is moving very quickly. Kube explained that drone technology is one of those things that North Dakota isn’t behind on, and the state has been very heavily invested with making drones available here. But how about the rest of the world?

“What we’re looking at is similar to the time right after the iPhone launch. People think it’s cool, but there were so many articles about if we really needed all of the technology in it and what we would even do with it. And now, eight or nine years later, it’s completely ingrained in our lives,” said Kube. “I think we’re a couple years into that cycle with drones, where we’re seeing that interest take off quite a bit, but it’s still anyone’s game. It doesn’t matter if you’re in North Dakota or California or the Ukraine–it’s a very democratic marketplace and whoever has a solution can bring it to the table and make an impact.”

By now you might be wondering what drones can really be used for. Kube explained that the two biggest markets Botlink has catered to so far are agriculture and construction. Imagine being able to survey massive amounts of land to find out crop health in a matter of hours, or being able to gather construction site information such as land elevation surveys, virtual building walk-throughs or safety investigations. Time-consuming tasks can be made more efficient with the use of drones and the services Botlink provides to operate them.

botlink software
An example of Botlink’s software that’s used to operate and control a drone.

“Agriculture is really where Botlink got its start. It was one of the orderly adopters of drone technology just because they were able to operate a little bit under the radar and they were further away from airports,” said Kube. “It was just a safer way to get this technology out in the marketplace. And, quite frankly, they had a good use case, which was crop health analysis.”

Kube stated that because drone technology is growing so fast, there are two other industries that he thinks drones have growing potential in: insurance and real estate. Let’s think about insurance for a second and imagine you run an insurance company that has to do inspections after a hailstorm.

“In the situation of a roof inspection, time equals money and then there’s that huge safety aspect for employees. There’s a time frame after storms like that where they can’t even legally send that person up there for safety reasons. But if you use a drone to take those photos, count those impacts and have software that can automatically analyze all of that data, it saves a lot on cost and time and increases safety for workers,” said Kube. And with real estate, using drones to capture even better and more thorough photos from all angles for listings only makes sense for customer satisfaction.

For People Like You

Maybe you’re not a business owner, but as far as the average consumer goes, how can your everyday Joe Schmoe or Jane Doe benefit from drone technology? The answer is rather obvious, and probably something that you interact with on a daily basis.

“I think that one of the coolest things that I’ve seen from that consumer standpoint, personally, that has nothing to do with business, is that drones are allowing us to explore and experience the world in ways that we couldn’t before,” said Kube. “Drones, on the consumer level, allow us to continue sharing a deeper experience with each other as a society–another way to share information and participate globally with each other.”

Botlink drones testing
Although Botlink typically doesn’t make drones to sell, they do build many models to use for their hardware and software testing.

Think about something like Google Earth or Street View, but with even better and more elaborate views. Drones have the ability to broaden our experiences even further if we’re not in a specific place, especially when paired with technology such as 3D cameras or virtual reality. Sure, you can share the world easily if you have a smartphone and Instagram, but imagine if you can get a shot of any place in the world, from any angle or height, and have those shots constantly updated. Who needs a helicopter when you can do it easier and cheaper with a drone?

Be Informed Before Investing

“That’s one of the issues you tend to run into with the drone industry, is that there are a lot of places that you would want to legally fly a drone that you still can’t. You can get exceptions in certain cases, but right out of the box, you still have to follow the rules. The FAA* does a great job of listing all of the rules so you don’t have to worry about stepping on someone’s toes if you don’t know. It’s all written down,” said Kube.

botlink drones

Due to the public space nature of drones, they come with government regulations, so Kube said that there are few things you should consider before investing in a drone. Will you use it commercially or as a hobbyist? Here are a few rules and tips to keep in mind, from Kube’s view, that apply to many consumers.

• If you’re going to be a commercial user and use the drone to make money, you’d have to get your FAA Part 107 certificate, which will allow you to legally fly a drone for commercial use.

• Remember that you are liable for anything that your drone causes from an accidental standpoint. Even if you have personal insurance, you’d also need business liability insurance for commercial use, an aviation policy and more depending on the use.

• Stay updated with current events and what’s going on with the FAA on a given day. The FAA may issue a TFR (temporary flight restriction) on a space that would normally allow flight. Kube gives the example of, “Maybe it’s Wednesday and the President is going to be in town, so you’re not allowed to fly drones over that area while that’s happening.” Another example is that you also can’t fly over a stadium when there’s a sporting event or similar activity going on.

• You can’t fly your drone within five nautical miles of an airport. Unfortunately, that means most of Fargo is off limits. You also have to keep your drone flying under 400 feet, which is easily tracked with the software you’re using.

• “I would also caution that if you’re using drones commercially and charging people for a service, to do it right. Make sure you know what the regulations are and be honest about what you’re doing,” said Kube. In other words, you can easily get into big trouble if you’re claiming to use a drone recreationally but then use it for commercial purposes.

Drones Can Make Your Life Easier

As a whole, don’t let the regulations or precautions become so daunting that they turn you away from utilizing the power of drones. “I think that the biggest thing I would want to make sure people understand is that drones are a tool that can make their lives better. They can help with efficiency and lower the cost of doing business, which also gets passed on to consumers,” he said. “I think it’s one of those things, too, that creates a ton of new opportunities for people to start their own small businesses around drones. View this as an opportunity, not a threat.”

* Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – A United States national authority with the power to regulate all aspects of civil aviation, which includes things like the construction and operation of airports, air traffic management, certification of personnel and aircrafts and more. In the drone world, it basically regulates who can fly in certain airspaces and the rules and regulations that need to be followed.

botlink fargo
201 5th St. N, Fargo
(Floor 15 of The Radisson)
Twitter: @BotlinkTeam
Instagram: @botlink