A former Israeli fighter pilot, Didi Horn, has created a new drone that aims to help the oil and gas industry more efficiently and cheaply monitor rigs, pipelines and other operations.

SkyX, an Israeli-Canadian startup based in Ontario, on Friday announced its public launch and said it was preparing to raise money in a Round B of financing.

SkyOne craft, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) developed by SkyX, are equipped with cameras and sensors and are able to inspect pipelines for damage; they can also do mapping and security surveillance. The drones are able to take off and land vertically and fly autonomously and have the ability to intuitively know when they need recharging.

Different from other drones, through proprietary technology, the SkyOne doesn’t need to return to home base to recharge. Instead, it flies to the nearest available xStation, where it recharges in a weather-shielded dome before continuing its mission, the company said in a statement.

“We believe our technology can significantly cut costs and improve efficiency – helping the sector as a whole,” said Horn, SkyX founder and CEO, adding that the technology will be “game changing” for the oil and gas industry.

SkyX Founder/CEO Didi Horn, right, with electrical engineer Liron Shemesh, center, and electronics specialist/intern Jacob Green (Courtesy Scott Simmie, SkyX)

SkyX Founder/CEO Didi Horn, right, with electrical engineer Liron Shemesh, center, and electronics specialist/intern Jacob Green (Courtesy Scott Simmie, SkyX)

“We now have our first customer from Canada who will be provided the solution on trial terms for three to six months,” said Horn in a phone interview. The company estimates its sales opportunity at some $100 million by 2020, he said.

SkyOne now travels 105 kilometers (some 65 miles) per hour and will soon be able to fly at 150 kilometers (93 miles) per hour. It can detect things like leaks, vandalism and vegetation encroachment. SkyOne allows for 24/7 data collection, provided in real-time, the statement said.

The drones are manufactured at third-party factories and the recharging stations need to be placed at 60-80 miles from each other. They could be located existing pumping stations of pipelines, on generators or set up as standalone systems, Horn said.

The oil and gas sector currently relies mainly on road vehicles and helicopters to detect any damage or threat. Both methods are more expensive and less timely, than the SkyX solution, the Canadian-Israeli company said.

SkyOne is already being marketed in North America and around the world as a service-leasing model: the drones will be leased to customers, with SkyX overseeing the data collection and maintenance and providing the customer the monitoring service. The company is able to control either an individual UAV or an entire fleet.

The startup has raised to date some $3.5 million from an aerospace and aviation company that has shares publicly traded in Hong Kong, Horn said. SkyX is now seeking to raise some $10 million to $15 million.

SkyX partial team with first two export models of SkyOne drones. CEO Didi Horn third from left (Courtesy)

SkyX partial team with first two export models of SkyOne drones. CEO Didi Horn third from left (Courtesy)

Statistics suggest that in North America alone, some $37 billion a year is spent in monitoring pipelines, to detect leaks or damage that could lead to a huge amount of environmental damage. With more than 10,000,000 kilometers of oil and gas pipelines worldwide, “the market and growth potential is huge,” Horn said.

Venture fund investment in drone startups surged 214 percent to $464 million in 2015; it was on track to drop to $367 million in 2016, a November 2016 report by CB Insights shows. Corporate venture arms are also increasing investment in the field, and are developing their own drones too. Intel, Qualcomm and Google are all working on their own drone projects, the New York based data firm said.

(This story was updated to reflect that the current financing round is Series B, and not Series A as previously mentioned by the company)