When unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and drones were first commissioned a hundred years ago, their main application was in the military. Remote machinery operation allowed users to engage in combat and training operations that were too unwieldy, risky, or dangerous for occupied vessels. As drones became more sophisticated, they slowly spilled into civilian use. As their applications expanded to include functions such as photography, delivery, disaster relief, inspection, policing, and surveillance, advances in technology were required. Drones not only had to move properly, but they also had to see properly.
Since 2007, PSBA company-in-residence SightLine Applications has made it their priority to tackle this very challenge. A leader in video processing technology, SightLine provides hardware and software innovation to an ever-growing number of markets capitalizing on drone and camera systems technology.
Now 30 strong with dedicated engineering and software development teams, SightLine began as a two-person operation. The pair, including Co-Founder and CTO Jordan Holt, originally worked as consultants, moving from client to client working on embedded video processing projects.
“We were two bootstrappers just trying to find our niche,” said Holt. At the time, neither had plans for SightLine to become a full product-based company. A single client made all the difference.
What started as a one-off request for a simple drone feature quickly snowballed into a product line all its own. Over the next few years - and without the help of a single investor - the company designed a new video processor and developed an extensive library of in-house video processing software to accompany it. Their technology was small and lightweight, perfectly suited for use in the small-to-medium-sized drones just beginning to hit the market in the late 2000s. As the company grew and demand increased, SightLine transitioned away from its consulting roots and began selling its technology to developers that would embed and integrate it into products and platforms of their own.
SightLine’s video processing technology allows for superior detecting, scanning, and monitoring of people and objects and greater stabilization, compression, and enhancement of recorded images. For drone developers in the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance industries, SightLine’s primary market, this means the ability to quickly identify targets, analyze and process situational data, and intuitively track movement across long distances without compromising image quality.
As more and more civilian markets have emerged following the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s decision to greenlight the flight of unmanned vehicles in civilian airspace in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, new opportunities have opened up for the company. SightLine’s comprehensive technology has now been installed in over 16,000 unique products across a number of applications. One customer has even applied their video processing capabilities to develop counter-drone technology to capture and neutralize other drones in mid-flight.
Their software has found traction in other non-drone-based markets and camera systems as well. Over the years, their technology has been used in medical and athletic contexts to stabilize images recorded from surgeon’s head-mounted cameras and those used by professional and college football teams to film practices for analysis and review. The company has recently begun expanding its toolbox to include processing applications for gas leak detection in infrared cameras. “It’s all a part of our growth model,” said Holt. “We’re customer-driven, and we’re always looking to see where the need is for new processors and new video processing capabilities.”
Since 2013, SightLine has also worked on growing its business ventures abroad, cultivating a worldwide network of sales agents. With sales to over 130 companies across 34 overseas markets, more than half of the company’s $10 million in revenue now come through exports. In 2019, the company was awarded the President’s “E” Award for Exports by the U.S. Department of Commerce to recognize its product excellence and contribution to national export growth.
Closer to home, SightLine has set its eyes on investing in the future by giving back. In partnership with Portland State University, SightLine provides 3 capstone opportunities to undergrads in their senior year: one in marketing, one in deep learning, and one involving the design and creation of a wildlife monitoring camera.