Altavian acquisition sets stage for FLIR’s move deeper into drones

Thermal-sensor maker FLIR has long been one of the most important, drone-adjacent companies out there — providing the tech needed to enable drones to use thermal cameras for purposes like finding missing people in remote areas, sensing the hottest spots in fires, or testing solar panels, among other use-cases. But this week, FLIR announced an even deeper move into drones with news that it has acquired Altavian, Inc., a privately-held manufacturer of drones for defense and public safety customers. And that Altavian acquisition could signal that FLIR has its sights set on becoming a heavyweight leader in the drone industry.

Altavian acquisition

The Altavian acquisition in a lot of ways isn’t completely surprising, given that the Altavian drone airframes have already integrated multiple sensors, including FLIR thermal technology, for use cases like decision support and
intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability. Altavian’s drones entail both quadcopter and fixed-wing UAS designs.

Altavian primarily focuses on government and defense use-cases, and is one of five drone manufacturers approved by the U.S. Department of Defense under the Blue sUAS program to sell to the U.S. military and federal agencies. Thus, Altavian will be integrated into FLIR Systems’ Defense Technologies Segment.

Though it’s not just the U.S. government that FLIR is working with. For example, FLIR also has a contract with the French Armed Forces.

“With the addition of both a low-cost, rapidly deployable quadcopter and a longer range fixed-wing UAS, FLIR is strengthening its already impressive drone lineup, including our Black Hornet and SkyRaider platforms used extensively by militaries around the globe,” said Roger Wells, General Manager of the Unmanned Systems and Integrated Solutions business of FLIR Systems’ Defense Technologies Segment, in a prepared statement. “We’re excited about the multiple new franchise opportunities FLIR will be able to pursue for defense, public safety, and industrial markets worldwide.”

This isn’t the first hardware company FLIR has acquired. FLIR acquired the assets and intellectual property of CyPhy Works after it shut down in 2019 for an undisclosed sum of money, which it integrated into FLIR’s Unmanned Systems and Integrated Solutions Division. And it’s not just drone hardware. FLIR in 2018 invested in DroneSense, a software startup building a product intended to help organizations to build, manage, and scale unmanned aircraft programs.

FLIR also makes a number of standalone products designed specifically for drones, such as the FLIR MUVE C360, which is a multi-gas detector and is compatible with the DJI Matrice 210 drone.

FLIR MUVE C360
The FLIR MUVE 360 on a DJI Matrice 210

FLIR also works closely with drone giant DJI to build the thermal cameras that are integrated directly into their drones, such as the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual, which flies a side-by-side 4K sensor for capturing visible light and a FLIR Lepton thermal microcamera for capturing thermal data (the Lepton is FLIR’s smallest thermal microcamera).

Both FLIR and Altavian are American companies, with the former based in Oregon, and Altavian based in Gainesville, Florida.

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