Andrew Carter leads the drone industry to a safe and reliable future

March 16, 2019


If the unmanned vehicle industry is going to take off, it needs a traffic management and control system. That’s so operators and businesses can reliably and safely fly drones beyond line of sight, something currently not allowed by the FAA for civilian or commercial craft.

Andrew Carter is president of ResilienX , founded in Syracuse last year to create part of that system. His business is in Syracuse for two reasons:

First, the Syracuse area is one of the FAA’s seven designated areas in the U.S. to create, test, and prove drone management and control systems.

Second, ResilienX is among the five finalists in the GENIUS NY program, a yearlong business accelerator for new companies in unmanned vehicles and systems. The program, based in The Tech Garden run by CenterState CEO, is part of the strategy by business and government that has made Central New York a leader in unmanned systems.

The GENIUS program includes a Finals Night competition for $3 million in investments, including a $1 million grand-prize investment. The companies – CivDrone , EagleHawk , ResilienX , Sentient Blue , and Vermeer – compete at 5 p.m. April 9 on stage at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown. There is no charge to attend, but register in advance at

Give me the elevator speech for ResilienX and your goals.

We’re aiming to create systems to help unlock the beyond-visual-line-of-sight economy.

On your car, when the check-engine light turns on, the driver knows something went wrong and needs to bring it to someone who can do something about it. We want to be the check engine light for the UTM (unmanned traffic management) ecosystem.

We need a system that can alert the operator that something has gone wrong, react to it, allow the system to continue running, and then allow a maintainer to say: Where is the actual problem? What do I need to do?

We’re developing the product, the framework, the monitoring to do that.

The unmanned traffic management system will have attributes like radars, weather sensors, and various kinds of software running in different parts of the world. All these kinds of sensors and software will run with the common mission of allowing you to fly drones beyond where you can see them – so they go where you want them to and they don’t run into things or crash. It’s a complex environment generating enormous amounts of data.

The market potential is huge, but it's also not immediate. The whole industry is still a few years off due to FAA regulations. Basically, technology is ahead of regulation.

Once the FAA has caught up, it's going to allow the technology to replicate, expand, and scale. Our goal in ResilienX is to be integrated with as many organizations and systems as possible before that time happens.

Once you can fly safely beyond visual line of sight and you start talking about urban air mobility, the projections are half a trillion dollars by 2040.

Tell me about your own path into the drone industry.

I spent my career at SRC. I was the architect of the Army’s ground-based sense and avoid system, which allows the Army to fly drones in the national airspace. I worked on that program for about 10 years. Gryphon Sensors, which was an SRC for-profit subsidiary, was basically trying to solve the same problem, but in the commercial space.

I thought: We already deployed a system. Let me move over there and try to help those guys out. That was the genesis of me getting into the commercial end, in the summer of 2017.

Last year, Gryphon was re-absorbed into SRC. Because SRC is a defense contractor, the commercial aspect wasn't there as much. I had caught the commercial bug. I really liked the work and what was happening. I'd made all kinds of contacts in the commercial industry.

One of my contacts was Sean Calhoun with CAL Analytics in Ohio. His company does a lot of service contracts for AFRL (Air Force Research Laboratory of Rome) and NASA.

I asked: Are you interested in working on this, kind of as a partnership?

He was excited about it. I joined up with him, and we created ResilienX, a corporation separate from CAL Analytics. We have four co-founders. I’m one. Then, Ryan Pleskach and Matt Manning. They’re both in the Syracuse area. Sean is based in Ohio.

Tell me about the competitive landscape.

We joked about this recently. The most collaborative people in the industry are actually the ones that have direct competition with each other. If the industry doesn't get off the ground, they don't go anywhere, so they're happy to work with everybody.

They're all working together on standards. If we don't standardize things, the industry's never getting off the ground. If we don't provide performance requirements and safety standards to the FAA, they're never going to write the regulations. So the people directly competing are the people that get along the best, which is kind of the interesting nature of where we are right now.

As far as other competitors, if a company like Google or Amazon decides they want to do it, they can bring more resources to bear than we can and they'll probably figure it out.

A company like Amazon could be an extraordinarily large customer at some point. Right?

Yes – or an acquisition target.

Let’s switch to leadership. Tell me about growing up and early leadership roles.

I grew up in Camden, Maine, and went to Camden Hills Regional High School. I was a multisport athlete throughout high school. I feel like when you're young, the leader is often the loudest person. I had a close group of friends, and within my group I think I was often the leader. But it was never anything formal, and I never really thought much about it.

In college (Clarkson University, class of 2007), I was almost forced into a leadership role and I started thinking about what that means. Some people may have leadership potential but won’t be seen as leaders until they have the opportunity. A lot of entrepreneurial people don't wait for someone else to give them the opportunity.

At Clarkson, I was elected to steward of a fraternity, a job no one really wanted that much. Essentially, you have to feed 20 hungry people every day. I was in that role for two years. You learn a lot about leadership in a role like that.

I majored in software engineering and ended up here because SRC recruits pretty heavily at Clarkson.

What advice would you offer for effective leadership?

What I've seen in my career and in my life is that effective leaders really have three qualities. They are decisive, persuasive, and strategic.

A lot of people don't like to make decisions. They want to wait for someone else to make it. They don't think they have enough information. They tend to look to people who make decisions easily.

So leaders tend to be decisive, able to make decisions. They gather information and they're going to make decisions based on that information.

For effective leadership, decision-making has to be paired with being persuasive and strategic.

If you make a decision, people are going to question it. All the time.

So you need to persuade people that you made the right decision. That might sound like you're just convincing people that you're right, but it’s really about communication.

With the teams that I've worked on in my career, I want to be challenged. If someone doesn't think what I'm doing is right, I want them to bring it up to me and say, let's have the conversation. If they can convince me to do something a different way or that I'm wrong, I'm open to that.

Being in a leadership role shouldn't be throwing your leadership role around. You don't want to get into a situation where you say: Do it, because I said so.

You need the ability to talk about your ideas, talk about your concepts, the reasons, the why. It's all about the why, the why behind what you're doing so that people understand your decisions.

If you can't answer the why, you're probably not leading.

The strategic aspect is important because when you're leading, people want to know: What is the strategy? Why are we doing it this way? What is the vision?

I see vision and strategy linked. What are we trying to do? How are we going to get there? And what if something goes wrong? What's the contingency plan? What if that doesn't happen?

If your answer is I don't know, you're going to have a hard time getting people to follow you.

Prescriptive leadership won’t get you very far. If you're just telling people what to do, you’re not really a leader in my mind.

If you have any two of the three attributes, you may still be a leader but you’re probably not going to be a great leader.

To be a great leader, you need all three.

And then you need to give honest feedback and you need to ask for and accept honest feedback. You need to be able to listen to that feedback and incorporate it.

What attributes do you see in poor leaders and ineffective leadership?

I think there are different levels. Everybody's seen the example of the terrible leader, the person throwing power around. That's micromanaging. I don't think you run into those people a lot, at least not in my career.

Engineers can get a job anywhere. If your leader is acting like that, they're not going to be a leader long, because their team's gonna quit.

What I’ve seen more often are people in leadership positions who have only two of the three attributes that I think make a good leader.

Somebody that's decisive and persuasive, but doesn't have a strategy? They're going to make decisions and they're going to convince you they’re the right decisions, but if anything goes wrong, they're not gonna be able to adapt.

Similarly, if someone is strategic and persuasive but can't make decisions, they're going to kind of flail and not really know what to do. That's the hem-and-the-haw leader where they just kind of wait and hope. You can't get anything done because they won't make a decision. They won't not make a decision. They're just there.

The decisive and strategic people that can't convince anyone that it's a good idea and the right direction won’t have anybody working with them. In almost anything, you can never do it alone. Building a team is always important. The person who can’t persuade is going to have a hard time building the team.

What do you think people want from their leaders?

They want a vision. They want a plan. They want a path to that vision.

And then the greatest thing that you can do as leader is remove the obstacles to that path.

As a leader you generally have to wear a lot of hats so that the people you're leading can focus.

I'll go through a day or a week and I'm like, man, I didn't get anything done, but my team is crushing it because I spent my time dealing with customer phone calls, dealing with this problem, fighting fires all over the place. At the end of the week, I have a 4,000-log email, and I personally have nothing to show for it. But I removed all the distractions for my team in the software realm so they could code stuff and fix stuff and get things to work.

The team didn't have to worry about all the other things that I was dealing with.

An old adage – it's a little more crass than this – is crap rolls downhill.

Effective leaders essentially provide a shield. They don’t let all the distractions get to their team.

I have found that is true of effective leaders at every level, whether you are leading a team of two people, a large corporation, or whether you're running your own small company.

Our industry is all over the place. It's evolving. It's changing. There are new regulations. There is new stuff, new problems, every day. I deal with all the crap in our industry. I don't want my team and my company to have to deal with that. I want them to be focused on great work.

Make sure that your team is effective and enjoying what they do.

You're in a space that requires innovation. What’s your advice for a leader to spark innovation?

Innovation comes from being annoyed and then being motivated to fix the problem.

People that get annoyed and don’t do anything about it are just complaining.

But if you're annoyed and you do something about it, then you become an innovator.

In the drone space, there are so many great opportunities, so many great uses for drones, but to me it’s annoying that they can't fly beyond visual line of sight.

Being annoyed with the state of things or with a particular pain point and then saying, well, what can I do about it? How can I help that? I think that's the genesis of innovation. You fix it so it's not annoying and other people won't be annoyed about it.

Fixing something that’s annoying doesn't necessarily mean there's a market, does it?

No, but it does mean you innovated. That's some of the difference between an innovator and an entrepreneur.

I'd consider myself much more of an innovator than an entrepreneur. Because the entrepreneurial side is more how to make a buck, right? Where's the market? What's the market?

When you do solve a problem, there is probably a market for it. Not a lot of people with a problems are the only person who cares about it.

So, it’s how many people care about it? How much are people willing to pay to fix it? That becomes more the entrepreneurial part.

For me, the GENIUS program is really helping me with that business acumen aspect. How do you take an innovator and turn him into an entrepreneur? Well you kind of shove business acumen down their throat. It’s why we tried to get into the GENIUS NY program. We knew we had a great problem and a great solution and a great value proposition, but we weren’t really sure about the business aspect of it.

You may also like...

ResilienX, Inc. Awarded a Phase III SBIR Contract to Collaborate with NASA’s System-Wide Safety Project
July 15, 2024
New Digital Infrastructure System AAM OptiX Featured at XPONENTIAL 2024
May 2, 2024
ResilienX & INVOLI Announce Strategic Partnership
April 15, 2024