Lafayette Drone Company Helping to Move Local Industries Into a New Age
At just 30, Bartels has already sold part of his company — Aerobotics Energy Group LLC, which operates unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) — to a world-class group of companies headed by the Chouest family.
Bartels is now looking at unlimited possibilities as part of a Louisiana-based conglomerate. Seeing him through the recent accomplishments were the accommodations and resources at the Opportunity Machine, Lafayette's premier technology incubator. Bartels and his company will graduate from the OM later his year.
"Dacoda embodies the 21st century tech entrepreneur working hand-in-hand with traditional industries to improve their productivity and efficiency,” said Opportunity Machine Director Destin Ortego. "He also knows when he needs to pivot and pursue something different."
Bartels has parlayed a love of flying things into a business that now mounts cameras on drones to capture aerial footage for inspections, precise measurements, 3-D modeling, and motion picture recordings. Bartels worked hard to build a name in the business, and along the way he had to change directions several times —recognizing avenues that leapfrogged his company’s success.
For instance, early on he recognized the capability of drones to augment filming motion pictures. So, he parked the Barnstorm Cinema (his company) helicopter and transitioned to drones during Louisiana’s filming heyday in the late-aughts. "It was very clear to me that this was the path forward," Bartels said.
Though successful in the movie industry — some of the movies he helped film include Black Panther and Django Unchained — Bartels became more and more disenchanted with an industry with a feast or famine nature. When filming in Louisiana slowed, he knew he needed to shift focus.
What intrigued Bartels was oil and gas. Energy promised repeat customers and it had very little competition when it came to drones, a new technology for the industry. Now, if he could just open a few doors and make some folks give him and his new company a chance.
He took two tracks: First, he rounded up every dime and every drone he had and rented a booth at the 2015 Louisiana Gulf Coast Oil Exposition, or LAGCOE. That year the energy downturn was at its depths and it made selling new drone technology doubly hard to old guard industry gatekeepers.
He also flew his biggest drone that carried his most sophisticated camera round and round the Cajundome, taking pictures of the structure. He then created a 3-dimensional model of the dome and put it front and center at his LAGCOE booth. The effort created a lot of buzz. "I went out of my way to make sure I made a lot of noise," he said.
His second track came after he recognized that cold calling and knocking on the doors of established energy companies could take years. So Bartels recruited a partner, really a mentor, in Eric Langlinais. Langlinais had decades in the Gulf of Mexico's energy sector and he knew the movers and shakers in the industry's C-suites.
"We scaled rapidly after that," he said.
But Bartels was not operating as efficiently as he could have been. He had not heard of the Opportunity Machine until talking to OM board member Doug Menefee.
While at the OM, housed in the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE) on Cajundome Boulevard, Bartels and Joe Lotuaco had access to contract lawyers, social media promotional experts, accounting classes, technology gurus, website builders, computer coders who've worked for several OM businesses, and all the Community Coffee they could handle.
Earlier this year, Bartels and Langlinais sold a majority of the company to longstanding Gulf of Mexico energy services company Grand Isle Shipyard, which is 51 percent owned by the family-controlled Edison Chouest Offshore. Bartels is ready to write the next chapter in Aerobotics Energy’s story.
Earlier this year, at Mayor Joel Robideaux's Robideaux Report inside the Heymann Center, Bartels manned the Opportunity Machine booth with Ortego, director of the OM. Bartels overheard a St. Landry Parish law officer talking about traveling to California with a group of officers for drone training.
As he does, Bartels sensed an opportunity. He told the law officer that Aerobotics Energy Group was certified to train police officers in flying unmanned aerial vehicles. Police use the drones for crowd control, emergency search and rescue, and other public safety uses.
The St. Landry Parish officer told members of the Lafayette Police Department about the local training. So, instead of sending a cadre of officers on an expensive trip to train, a group of eight officers learned the basics of takeoff and landing and getting the aerial video needed.
Capt. Chris Trahan said drones offer an inexpensive but efficient way to: keep tabs on a crowd; spot trouble when it starts to brew; and finding lost or imperiled people.
"Search and rescue. That's the important thing," Trahan said.