NI drone business helping UK respond to COVID-19

  • Photo: All photographs have been used with consent from CSD

    A Belfast-based drone company is still securing aerial work despite the coronavirus-caused halt in usually its largest source of revenue; large public events.

    Crowded Space Drones (CSD) was founded by Belfast man Andrew McQuillan in 2015 and as you can probably tell by the name, the firm started out by recording crowds across widely spaced events using high-tech drones.

    Despite the UK government announcing there will be no public events held until at least the end of September this year, CSD was “deeply honoured to be asked to provide aerial filming for the UK's celebration of the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe day in Central London” on 8 May.

    In December 2019 CSD was also invited to Windsor Castle to film footage for the Queen's Christmas Broadcast 

    Andrew is also staying busy in his spare time by baking an array of cakes for some frontline workers.

    He recently told the Sunday Life newspaper: “I suffered from heart failure caused by Norovirus last December which meant a hospital stay and a new approach to healthy eating. I wanted to do some good. A friend is a paramedic and her husband works in NI Ambulance Service (NIAS) Control. They were my first cake recipients and it snowballed from there.”

    He has since sent more edible treats to Belfast City Hospital, a PSNI officer, a friend who is supplying personal protective equipment (PPE) and Translink bus drivers driving shuttles to hospitals for staff.

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    Andrew told Sync NI that the idea for CSD came when he was working as the head of security on the Game of Thrones (GOT) set nearly five years ago.

    He commented: “We were filming for six months and had problems with people flying drones over the set during the period when Jon Snow was supposed to be dead,” (this was going to be a major problem as the plot was to be kept top secret).

    “At the time Warner Bros owned HBO and they flagged up any media coverage of GOT. I had to get a license to fly drones to understand the problem fully and work out with the government and police how to legally stop drones. The more we looked into it we realised it was easy to protect the set from them.”

    Andrew McQuillan, founder of CSD

    Ironically then, it was the bid to stop drones that gauged Andrew’s interest in them and he added that this led to his realisation of what was involved in terms of filming with drones, and not just from a safety or security point of view.

    However, CSD does still provide public safety and crowd management services through its tech. Last summer the business dealt with almost 1000 illegal drones across UK major events, having stopped over 200 in 2018 with many arrests and prosecutions. 

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    Andrew said this was a market he realised he could get involved with in Northern Ireland as “up until 2017, the police dealt with it all here whereas in England it was all through private companies, and the police wanted to do things that didn’t suit the event.”

    Some of CSD’s customers for aerial filming and photography include Arsenal football club, the BBC, Sky News and American media organisations MTV and ESPN.

    Andrew continued: “We’ve grown to have a big international footprint and 80% of our work is outside of NI now. We do work with the likes of Walmart in the US and are lucky that we’re able to secure some big clients. Live Nation have worked with us for three or four years now which shows they’re very happy with what we’re doing for them and we’re expanding constantly.”

    CSD has worked on multiple US projects, including aerial filming for the Firefly music festival

    Only a few months ago Andrew had been in Los Angeles discussing some work plans for big summer events in the US, but unfortunately no one could have foreseen a global health pandemic stopping such goals.

    Nonetheless, he remains undeterred and CSD remains fully operational, having currently expanded its role in assisting public safety and health from the crisis issues arising, following requests from the UK government and public agencies.

    CSD’s website states: “Our role includes aspects of backfilling crucial drone services normally conducted by the emergency services as they refocus and prioritise their role… in addition to our normal provisions of services to private sector and television industry.”

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    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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