Vigilant Aerospace Systems CEO Embraces Disruption
by Lori Williams
Kraettli Epperson is an entrepreneur who can identify and create a company centered on disruptive technologies. And then he repeats the process again with another startup, often times while developing software and geospatial information systems. Mr. Epperson is a serial entrepreneur with a proven career as an investor, data system designer, patent holder and technology company adviser. But given his latest venture as CEO and co-founder of Vigilant Aerospace Systems, agile entrepreneur should be added to the list.
“Vigilant Aerospace Systems has exclusively licensed NASA’s situational awareness detect and avoid system for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS),” says the company’s CEO. “Our software is designed to help provide additional awareness of other aircraft.”
From its founding in 2015 to its nimble assistance in the hurricane afflicted Houston area, Vigilant Aerospace Systems is a company built on agile response and solutions.
“I took the unmanned aircraft pilot test on the first day it was available, in August of 2016” says Mr. Epperson. “I’m the test pilot, which enables our company to very quickly make changes as we test our software in real world situations.”
“One of Vigilant’s big advantages is that we move very quickly. Our focus is on software that provides practical applications from technologies and patents for flight safety. We are a company that follows an ethos of creating lots of small increments frequently to our system.”
“For example, a customer recently asked us to change the way their aircraft were identified. So we modified our software and sent them a new version a few days later.”
Vigilant has four suites of software. The most basic is FlightHorizon GCS™, which utilizes an aviation transponder along with an optional ground-based radar attached to a laptop or ground control workstation. This system provides situational awareness and collision avoidance commands to the ground-based drone pilot.
The newest, soon to be released software is FlightHorizon FLEET™. This cloud-based online system collects flight logs from multiple FlightHorizon installations to facilitate centralized reporting, management of licenses, and replay of fleet flights.
“Right now, we have a lot of demand for all four versions,” says Mr. Epperson. “There’s more interest than we expected in the FLEET product, probably because there are so many organizations that fly numerous aircraft. They want to be able to monitor and have a management oversight tool for their fleet.”
But whether the drones are flown individually or in fleets, only the sky’s the limit regarding their possible uses. “The types of flight operations we’re focused on,” explains the CEO, “are called industrial flying because the tasks are generally asset inspections as well as incident or event response. Our customers are the ones who are leading the way.”
“Unmanned aircraft that are fitted with multispectral sensors and infrared cameras can determine growth patterns and problems in agriculture and cattle. Some companies have other specialized niches, such as doing produced oil and gas well water estimations or mine tailing estimations based on 3D pictures.”
But not all applications are quite so esoteric. Properly equipped drones can take photos of highways, bridges, drainage systems, waterways, solar farms, and river systems, to name just a few. Worried about fraying wires on a power line? A UAS equipped with an infrared camera can zoom in on problem spots before they become hazardous.
But Vigilant Aerospace’s most recent endeavor is particularly newsworthy. “I was invited to join the Red Cross unmanned aircraft response team to provide airspace safety for their operations over Houston,” says Kraettli Epperson. In fact, within hours of the invitation, he was on his way to assist with the early stages of Hurricane Harvey disaster recovery.
As long as there are catastrophic events taking place around the country, Epperson’s agile company will be called upon for incident assessment. When he’s back home in Oklahoma, his growing company demands equally nimble responses. But what about the day when the next disruptive technology appears on the horizon? “I’ve noticed an overlap between the use of unmanned aircraft, artificial intelligence, and machine learning systems,” he says. “When these work together, there can be large scale data analysis and in some cases, even the identification of aircraft targets to avoid. So I’m very excited about the next disruptive technology.”
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Stillwater based RPX Technologies, Inc. develops, designs and manufactures high-tech solutions that solve pervasive aviation and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry problems.
DynaVibe, the core RPX solution, performs vibration analysis on fixed-wing, rotor-wing, and unmanned aircraft to guide aircraft mechanics through the necessary steps to eliminate damaging aircraft vibrations resulting from out-of-balance or misadjusted rotational components. The use of DynaVibe helps eliminate failures, substantially reduces aircraft maintenance costs, and improves the flying experience for pilot and passenger.
RPX is now entering the commercial and military UAV markets by providing the world's smallest, and most lightweight, fully integrated thermal imaging cameras. These cameras are ideal for UAV night-vision, surveillance, and search-and-rescue operations.
Lynda Field Speller currently serves as the Industrial Coordinator Consultant for Metro Technology Centers’ Economic Development Department, as well as, CEO of Strategic Technologies, LLC. For well over 20 years as owner and manager of several multi-national government and private sector contracting companies, Lynda has extensive executive management and program management experience with U.S Department of Defense and other federal agencies directing business operations, including legal and financial responsibilities in the aviation and aerospace fields, telecommunications and other service related industries.
Her continuing career includes federal government solicitation review, proposal preparation, bidding, negotiations, contract performance and administration. Her expertise encompasses such economic development issues as company start-ups, marketing, management, project start-up and management, strategic planning, banking relations, logistics, property management, government relations and regulations, specifications and standards; cost controls and reductions, government assets management, company assets management, quality assurance, safety and security programs, expansion and turn-around strategies, revenue and profit growth, organizational development, national account programs, company acquisitions and mergers and customized training for business and industry.
Each year, as we start a new session of Oklahoma Venture Forum I am reminded and impressed by the talented, hard working professionals we have in Oklahoma and I am thankful for the opportunity we have at our Speaker Series luncheons & OVF After Hours events to share, learn, & foster relationships between our varied members and guests. This September we started off our session with 2 excellent events. Chad Jordan, CEO & Founder of Arrow Global Capital and OVF member made a special trip back to Oklahoma City from Washington DC where he was representing the interest of small business on the Hill to talk with us about their teams work to bring together philanthropy and capitalism to provide opportunity to small businesses in the developing world. Next, the recently opened Oklahoma City campus of the Gene Rainbolt Graduate School of Business, hosted us for our OVF After Hours event. The OU office of Technology Development was our sponsor and OU venture research fellows Cortes Williams, PHD. Blake Hopiavuori, PHD. & Dustin Masser, PHD. Spoke about their startups, Advanced Culture Systems and Lipid Biologics. Both presentations were excellent and as always it is so impressive to see the talent coming from our state’s universities!
You ask, how do we follow up two great events like that? With an October Speaker Series lunch focusing on the disruptive technology of unmanned aircraft or drones. This is a hot topic so make sure and make your lunch RSVP ASAP! We are excited to have 2 speakers that are right in the middle of this exciting industry. Our short presenter will be Michael Fox, CEO & Co- Founder of RPX technologies. RPX focuses on improving performance and reducing maintenance cost by reducing vibration caused by prop imbalances. Our main speaker is Kraettli Epperson, CEO & Co- Founder of Vigilant Aerospace Systems. VAS focuses on the licensing and commercialization of NASA flight safety technologies and developing and marketing new situational awareness, collision avoidance and autonomous flight products. I thank both for taking time out of their busy schedules to join us and I am looking forward to learning more about this evolving industry!
I look forward to seeing you at the Speaker Series luncheon in October. Remember to come a few minutes early to catch up with old friends and make new connections! Our next great OVF After Hours event is planned for November with more info coming soon!