St. Louis becoming a geospatial powerhouse

Bronwyn Morgan is a sUAS (drone) certified pilot, FAA safety representative, and FAA drone pro. She is also the founder of St. Louis company Xeo Air, an AI-based drones on demand, data analytics, and autonomy platform for mission management. Xeo Air works with B2B clients in telecom, catastrophic response, oil and gas, energy, construction, and civil infrastructure. Flyover Future spoke with Morgan about her company and how St. Louis is about to be a powerhouse in the geospatial field.

What are geospatial technologies?

Morgan: Geospatial just means anything that is denoted by a geographical point to which you can reference. That can be captured on the ground, with a drone or with a satellite. Your phone, your GPS, are geospatial, because they recognize a point in a particular terrestrial location.

Is geospatial tech a growing area in St. Louis?

Morgan: It is. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is building their second venue outside of Washington D.C. here in St. Louis. It’s a $2.5 billion or $3 billion investment, so it’s massive. As a result of that, all types of geospatial solutions and supporting companies are going to be locating and building here in St. Louis. This region is about to get a big boost.

Why St. Louis?

Morgan: I think there had been some history in the past with a NGA office that was already here in St. Louis [NGA Campus West]. The Army Air Corps also established its map unit here in 1943. They recognized that in the St. Louis location, you can get to all points easily.

I think it just seemed like a good point to expand upon and grow what they already had here. You’ve also got a history here in St. Louis, with companies like Boeing and universities like Saint Louis University, which has a growing geospatial program. You also have military installations nearby, including Scott Air Force Base and Fort Leonard Wood. It’s just a nice central location.

Tell us about the company.

Morgan:  Xeo Air is an outsourced AI-based drone service that offers data analytics and autonomous solutions for infrastructure based verticals. We work in telecom, utilities, energy, civil infrastructure, catastrophe services, and environmental and climate observation. We provide a portal for those entities to build their missions. This means we provide the pilots, as well as data collection and analytics for customers. We also do photogrammetry — the science of obtaining in formation from photographic images. Our pursuits are companies from both private and public sectors.

So they obtain data for different reasons?

Morgan: Exactly. Usually it is for asset analysis and management. If you think about wind and solar, you want to know where you’ve got damage on your blades and on the structure. This is because it has to be maintained and fixed for peak performance and in order to prevent any type of disaster or downtime. It’s the same thing with a bridge; you need to be able to identify the issues so they can be repaired. For catastrophes and disasters, of course, you need to be able to assess damage after a disaster, whether to structures, beaches or roadways.

The data can be also be used from a mapping perspective — mapping out a location whether it’s for a real estate project, construction, a civic improvement project, assessment of a terrestrial environment or erosion. Drones are being used for all of these things. Fire departments are using them; police departments are using them; and, of course, the military is using them.

How did you get involved in the field, and how did you launch your company?

Morgan: I always wanted to work in aviation and aerospace since I was a kid, but in a different form. I wanted to be a pilot. I wanted to be an astronaut. Those things didn’t happen. So I went into business instead. Before I opened Xeo Air, I was an innovation consultant working with Fortune 500 companies on future-proofing strategies. I was looking at and introducing them to all kinds of new technologies. (I still studied to get my FAA certification as a pilot).

Are you self-funded, or did you obtain venture capital funding for your company?

Morgan: We’re in the very early stage, so everything to date has been bootstrapped. We have gotten some small grants, and we’re in the process of raising funds right now.

Startups can be hard work.

Morgan: It’s taxing. As a founder, nothing happens till you make it happen. I mean, you have people who work and support you. However, you have to be the engine, the fire power and the opportunity maker.

What do you see for the future of geospatial?

Morgan: The drone industry is blowing up. It’s a big industry, and we’re just one part [of it]. As a result, there’s going to be a lot of transformation in how we work and live.