Ashima: Reno is perfect place to build, test UAVs

Mark Richardson of Ashima Devices displays the company's hexpuck unmanned aerial vehicle designed for short-scale reconnaissance.

Mark Richardson of Ashima Devices displays the company's hexpuck unmanned aerial vehicle designed for short-scale reconnaissance.

Mark Richardson, president of Ashima Devices, says Reno is the perfect place to relocate a startup UAV company.

Ashima Devices last week announced it would move its corporate headquarters from Pasadena, Calif., to northern Nevada to capitalize on the state’s designation as an unmanned aerial vehicle testing center. Ashima Devices is an early-stage company that’s bringing to market a small UAV designed for short-range reconnaissance and data gathering.

Though the company is just 20 employees, it expects to grow its regional workforce by several hundred employees as it begins manufacturing, testing and development and sales of the hexpuck device. The target industry for the firm’s initial UAV is law enforcement and rescue agencies, but second- and third-generation devices could be used for global security and in heavy-duty industrial or maritime applications, such as inspection of deep-sea oil wells or ships at sea. Construction represents another possible market for the hexpuck: The device could help crane operators with “blind” lifts where they can’t see the payload target.

Here’s how Ashima’s hexpuck works:

A series of rotors encased in a molded-plastic body move the device, which is controlled via tablet computer by the user. Ashima’s in-flight software controls the Hexpuck’s operations so users can manually change height, speed, pitch or yaw, and the device also can be set to a “follow” mode to shadow the operator at several pre-determined ranges. Two on-board cameras send visual data to the tablet so the operator can perform visual inspections. Range is from a few hundred feet to around a half-mile, Richardson says.

The device, which looks similar to a household fan with six rotors laid on its back, could prove popular with law enforcement agencies, Richardson notes, because it can be deployed within minutes to perform situational reconnaissance and does not require extensive training to operate.

“The need we had presented to us is having something they can get going immediately,” he said at a press conference last Tuesday at Reno-Stead Airport announcing the company’s relocation plans. “That’s the core piece of what we want to do.”

Ashima expects to begin manufacturing soon, Richardson adds, though it’s still searching for an industrial location. Its current headquarters are on the eighth floor of the office building at 200 S. Virginia St. It’s also searching for northern Nevada companies that can produce parts for the UAV, specifically the injection-molded hard plastic shell and the electronics board.

“We want to get that here as soon as we can,” Richardson says. “We would love to do that here in Reno, and we would love to find the right fabricator for us.”

The privately held company was founded in 2011 and this April received $1.1 million from angel investors and Brightstone Venture Capital Fund of Minneapolis.

Ashima expects to either sell the devices outright or lease them to first responders and law enforcement agencies for about $300 a month, says Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Larry Lambert. Richardson says moving the company to Northern Nevada made sense because Reno-Stead Airport provides an excellent place to test UAV devices, and because of the pipeline it plans to build with University of Nevada, Reno grads to fill crucial research and development roles.

“It’s physicists, electrical engineers, mathematicians — the hard sciences — and a lot of electrical and chemical engineering,” Richardson says.


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