New chief to pilot ‘drone’ chopper firm

Craig Roberts said Cyberhawk is 'putting together a plan to scale up'
Craig Roberts said Cyberhawk is 'putting together a plan to scale up'
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CYBERHAWK Innovations, the West Lothian firm whose unmanned helicopters have been used to peer into forests, oil installations and even assist the Scotland rugby squad, has appointed a new boss ahead of a seven-figure fundraising and overseas expansion.

Craig Roberts, who has held senior positions on both sides of the Atlantic, takes the reins as chief executive of the Livingston-based firm in a move that sees founder and former managing director Malcolm Connolly focus on research and development.

The company, which was founded four years ago, has developed a remote-piloted “drone” equipped with cameras and thermal imaging that can inspect tall or inaccessible structures without shutting them down. It has already completed a string of aerial inspections for petrochemical facilities and North Sea platform operators.

A major expansion drive will also see it push into the potentially lucrative offshore wind farm market.

Edinburgh-born Roberts, who has experience in “non-destructive” testing for the oil and gas industry, said Cyberhawk was looking to raise fresh funding by the end of the first quarter of 2013.

The firm is likely to tap Scottish Equity Partners’ £95 million Environmental Energies Fund, which it is already part of.

“We are at the start of an investment round,” said Roberts, who is a finance graduate of Heriot-Watt University. “The intention is to expand into the Middle East, Europe and North America.

“We are putting together a plan to scale up, adding resources ahead of the revenue curve. The business has to keep running faster than the crowd and we have to keep investing in R&D.”

The firm will grow its crew of trained “pilots”, and its new boss said the company’s overall headcount would likely more than double to about 30 in the next financial year.

“The year after that we plan to have 46, then we get into 60 or 70 numbers,” said Roberts. “We have highly skilled pilots who can fly these remote vehicles manually. These are people that we have to find and train.”

He added: “A big chunk of the R&D effort is going to go towards commercialising our wind turbine inspection solution, which is currently being trialled.

“We have done trials onshore which have been successful but the compelling mechanisms are offshore. The cost burden and potential dangers to life and limb are much higher out there.”

The firm is to open an 
Aberdeen office within the next six months to meet demand from the oil and gas sector.

“It is a major area for us,” noted Roberts. “We recently did a world first in underdeck inspection, which avoided months of scaffolding work for the client.”

A Cyberhawk helicopter has been used in the past to assist in training sessions for the Scotland rugby squad, flying overhead to record a “player’s eye view” of the action that could then be analysed by coaching staff.

The unmanned craft have also been used recently to capture images that can help woodland managers spot telltale signs of fatal fungal infections in trees.

Cyberhawk founder Connolly takes up the post of technical director following the appointment of Roberts.

Twitter: @scottjamesreid