Drones: Red Hat founder Bob Young’s latest investment

PrecisionHawkBob Young helped found what would become Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) in 1993. Now, more than 20 years later, he has found a new project – a company he calls “the Red Hat of big data” – and it’s all about drones.

Young, whose other roles include heading Raleigh self-publishing firm Lulu.com and backing Raleigh-based Needlepoint.com, doesn’t classify himself as “a tech guy.”

But that didn’t stop him from investing in PrecisionHawk, a Canadian company exploring ways to use drones to make life easier for farmers. And the company is developing technology here in Raleigh.

Young was PrecisionHawk’s first investor. At its small office off of Glenwood Avenue, he tells me how Ernest Earon, PrecisionHawk president and a fellow Canadian, talked him into taking a big bet on drones – or as the company likes to call them, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).

“PrecisionHawk is a data collection company as much as anything,” Young says. “Primarily, it’s agricultural industry data collection, and we use drones to do that. Our drones are computer-controlled drones, so the computer tells the drone where to go and what to survey, and the attraction to these unmanned planes is they can fly at a low altitude over a farmer’s field.”

He shows me a video in which a man in a field holds the 3-pound plane and tosses it like a paper airplane. The plane soars over the field with scanning technology capable of counting individual corn plants. But it’s not just about taking photos, he says.

The drones can be equipped with infrared, heat-sensing technology that helps collect the data points that farmers need – a task currently handled by planes. That’s the inspiration behind the word “precision” in the company’s name; no longer is a pilot estimating how dry a field is or how many seedlings have sprouted.

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