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Many drones carry cameras, but these carry a hose. What’s this NC company up to?

It wouldn’t occur to many people to attach a hose to a drone. But it did to a trio of Davidson College students, who think the idea can help keep buildings clean.

After finding some early success in the Lake Norman area, Andrew Ashur, David Danielson and Adrian Mayans now hope to expand the market for their “drone-assisted exterior cleaning” service to the Triangle and perhaps Virginia.

“We’ve got the hardware so we can start cleaning larger buildings,” said Ashur, who pitched for Davidson’s baseball team until he opted to graduate early this year so he could focus on launching the new company, Lucid.

Ashur said they got the idea last fall after seeing workers in Charlotte “hanging from great heights to effectively clean the windows of skyscrapers” and wondering if there was a better way.

They decided drones might be a better tool for the job, and that there’s a business opportunity in the maintenance of smaller buildings.

“Pretty much any time you get past two stories, you need to bring in a lift,” Ashur said.

Lucid says it can remove mold, mildew, algae and other growth from the outside of a building more quickly and cheaper than ordinary contractors can.

The method is simple, in concept: The company delivers a drone, a hose and a tank or two of the appropriate cleaning solution, plus the necessary people to assemble them and fly the mission. The drone only has to support the weight of the hose and the fluid that’s in the hose. Operators tailor the selection of the cleaning solution to the type of gunk they’re trying to remove.

They prefer to “use a combination of responsible, biodegradable chemistry with more gentle rinsing” instead of pressure-washing because they think that’s easier on the exterior finish and fittings of a building, Ashur said.

Going into business meant Ashur and his friends needed to secure the special pilot’s licenses the Federal Aviation Administration requires of people who fly drones for business.

That took mastering about 1,000 pages of information on airspace restrictions, weather forecasts, aeronautical decision-making and other matters that affect flight safety, and then passing a written test. But unlike with a conventional aircraft, they didn’t have to show off their actual flying skills to an FAA examiner.

Though “you do have to get down into the weeds in certain parts,” everyone involved in the company passed the FAA test on their first try, Ashur said.

Ashur said he also checked with the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems staff about whether the cleaning solutions the company uses violate a rule against flying hazardous materials. He believes “nothing we do is in violation of the standards.”

Over the summer Lucid “got a bunch of residential jobs,” secured business insurance and upgraded its drone hardware, Ashur said. It’s now seeking commercial customers and is hearing interest from colleges, Davidson among them.

Lucid’s also hired a full-time employee to lend a hand, who will help Ashur extend operations to the Triangle in a few weeks after the co-founders finish talks with some potential investors. Danielson and Mayans are staying at Davidson for now, to finish their degrees and take on cleaning missions for the company in the Charlotte and Lake Norman area on weekends.

If the company lands enough investors, it plans to hire a software engineer or two, and if the expansion to the Triangle works out a further expansion to Fairfax, Virginia, is also possible, Ashur said.

The start-up is a welcome arrival to Kyle Snyder, who heads the NextGen Air Transportation Consortium at N.C. State University. His organization is trying to spur the development of the drone industry in North Carolina, and has successes to its credit like drone-maker senseFly’s move to Raleigh in June.

“Everyday applications of this technology are exciting and inspiring more people to do more” with it, Snyder said, adding that “none of this was possible six years ago” as the NextGen consortium was getting off the ground.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg
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