UCF grads aim to disrupt drone industry with hybrid model

By Julie Gargotta, Reporter
Last Updated: Saturday, March 10, 2018, 9:26 AM EST

Two University of Central Florida graduates want to disrupt the drone industry, launching their own hybrid model.

  • UCF grads create hybrid drone model 
  • Drone runs on high octane gasoline, some lifing up to 100 lbs
  • Duo launched smaller H4 hybrid drone to appeal more to consumers

“Hopefully it becomes a staple in the army’s arsenal," said Ethan Wash, co-owner of Harris Aerial. “We cut down on lead times, cut down on cost. And we keep the quality control.”

The start-up debuted their H4 hybrid drone, which can lift around 10 pounds and fly for several hours.

It runs on high octane gasoline versus a standard lithium polymer battery.

“The flight times on the drone are 3-5 hours, depending on the payload configuration. Drones right now can fly about 30 minutes," said Benjamin Harris.

From his college apartment at UCF, Benjamin Harris started making drones.

“I saw there was a disconnect in the market, not a lot of heavy lift drones available," he said. “We saw the Chinese frames weren’t very quality, so we decided to start designing our own.”

Harris later linked up with freelance engineer, Ethan Wash.

“I sent him my portfolio and resume and he asked me the next day when I could start," Wash said.

Soon the duo found themselves gutting a small Casselberry studio, using $150,000 from an investor to purchase pricey equipment, from 3-D printers to mills, making about 90 percent of their drone parts in-house.

Their initial drone series lifted more weight, some up to 100 lbs, carrying payloads of sensors to cameras.

“This drone is going to a research institute in India, they’re putting a couple multi-spectral imaging cameras on it," said Harris of one model.

There was just one problem: With strict FAA regulations, the heavy lift drone didn't really "take off" in the U.S.

In recent months, the company sold a little over a dozen of such drones, which run between $23,000 to $70,000; almost all of them to customers outside the country.

So, Harris and Wash pivoted, launching a smaller, H4 hybrid drone in recent weeks.

“So people can do surveillance without having to land the drone," said Wash, 26. “Right now, the hybrid drone is probably our best bet at being successful."

Harris, 29, is excited at the prospect.

“I discovered about myself I really like building things, I like designing things," he said. "I thought there could be ways it could be done better. And we did it.”