Robotic Drone Company Wants To Conquer Houston Market

Israel-based Airobotics says its drones could be useful in preventing refinery fires.


To embed this piece of audio in your site, please use this code:

<iframe src="" style="height: 115px; width: 100%;"></iframe>

Robotic drones could soon be hovering over parts of the Houston area, if one company has its way.

Israel-based Airobotics demonstrated their machines in Deer Park at an event with the Deer Park Chamber of Commerce Tuesday.

The drones don't need to be controlled by a pilot. After being programmed for a mission, they automatically fly out of a docking station and can collect footage and data from the air.

"It measures wind, it measures all kinds of things," Eitan Rotberg, general manager of Airobotics in Houston, said. "It can actually plan the mission while it's flying and change the routes."

He said this would be useful to prevent or mitigate catastrophes like the ITC fire in March.

"They could deploy this drone in 10 minutes or five minutes, getting this video going to all of the firefighters on ground to their cellphones," Rotberg said. "And they could take better decisions and maybe this fire was prevented or was not developed into such a big event."

The company hopes for industry to adopt the technology, but it's also targeting local governments to use the drones for things like infrastructure inspection.

Deer Park City Manager Jay Stokes said he may consider the technology.

"I'd like to know more about it and what some of the applications would be for the city and what the cost would be and that type of thing, but potentially," he said.

Tim Culp, president and CEO of the Deer Park Chamber of Commerce, has been advocating for Airobotics after first meeting with the company about a month ago.

"I love the model aspect that they have with Airobotics and their business plan of where they're looking and trying to allow their industrial partners to help actually fund a drone that could be used by a governmental entity such as Deer Park," he said.

Industries along the ship channel are already using remote-controlled drones as part of their operations.

John McClain, chief drone pilot at Shell Deer Park, said he was impressed with the demonstration by Airobotics, but that more needs to happen before this technology can take off here.

"The technology, this [so-]called ‘drone in a box,' is already here and well established," he said. "It's the FAA regulations catching up to the technology, where you don't have to get waivers for, as they mentioned, beyond line of a sight, flying over people, flying at night."

Airobotics expects the Federal Aviation Administration to make some changes to its drone regulations in March.

While McClain calls the robotic drones the future, he said he currently wouldn't use them in the downstream oil and gas industry.

"We specifically make stuff that we got to keep in the pipes, because if we don't keep it in the pipes it catches fire, so therefore we don't want our drones going down where that can happen," McClain said. "So yes, the drone in the box right now is not an option for us. We like to pilot our own drones where we can see them and take appropriate actions if there should be an issue."

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required