In this article, we are featuring Ian Glenn, founder, chief executive and chief technology officer of ING Robotic Aviation Inc. as a Game Changer within the defence and security industry.
1. How did you start out in this industry and how has it brought you to where you are today?
I talk about my ‘checkered past’ when I describe how I ended up founding and leading, ING Robotic Aviation. I was fortunate enough as a farm boy to discover the “work for education” option provided by Royal Roads and RMC. That led me on a 22-year adventure in the military that afforded me the opportunity to serve with some of Canada’s finest citizens and to do some extraordinary things. I was privileged to serve both as an Armoured Officer and an RCEME officer. The Canadian Army also provided me with the tools and the confidence to lead the unmanned aviation sector – something I have continued in the past 16 years since retirement in 2000. My first encounter with UAVs was 20 years ago when the Canadian Army made me responsible for its UAV program. Post-retirement I had the opportunity to create and lead, as a volunteer, Canada’s non-profit national association, Unmanned Systems Canada. My passion for UAVs led me to create my company with a focus on engineering support to ISTAR systems and when the opportunity presented itself, to pivot the company into UAV operations in support of CAF operations in Afghanistan.
2. What is your role in your organization today?
Founder, chief executive and chief technology officer of ING Robotic Aviation Inc.
3. What was your most challenging moment?
Being an entrepreneur has been described as leaping from an airplane, naked, and building your parachute on the way down. I think that pretty well describes my life as a leader in this exponentially growing sector. Challenging moments come every day in business whether you are dealing with the changing defence market, the realities of the depressed Canadian economy – particularly for our resource industries, or the challenges of competing in the world economy.
4. What was your A-HA moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our reader, tell us that story?
My a-ha moment occurred one early morning in Kandahar. It was four in the morning in October 2008. It was my first trip to KAF. I was standing outside the Big-Ass Tent (BAT) waiting to travel out to our UAV site and get ready for the mission of the day – which was providing UAV ISR for a Canadian convoy as it traveled out to a FOB. As I waited by the side of the road for the rest of my team, the convoy that we were to protect that day rolled by. I exchanged a glance with the convoy commander when he looked down from his LAV hatch. While he would not have known who I was, I had tremendous empathy for him. Having spent a lot of time in the turret myself, I knew what he had to be thinking. What would his day bring? Would he successfully get those under his charge safely to their destination? That was when it hit me. All of my work over the intervening 12 years had culminated in this day. My ING UAV team, with our partners in the SUAS troop, 4 AD, had changed his world for the better. At a time when Canadians were dying and being injured routinely by IEDs, we changed the equation with this unseen airborne Angel flying persistent overwatch for his convoy as it traveled its perilous path outside the wire. Days don’t get better than that!
5. What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?
People ask me how I can be so enthusiastic about a sector that I have been involved with for 20 years. It’s the opportunity to work with amazing people. The robotic aviation sector attracts tremendous talent in every form from engineer to technician to operator. The most exciting for me is when I get to engage with the next generation. Currently, with our partner, the non-profit ACTUA, we are bringing education in robotic aircraft to kids across the Canadian arctic as part of a STEM program. When a nine-year old’s eyes light up and she says, “That’s so cool!”, it makes your day.
6. What is the best advice you received?
I have received a lot of great advice over the years – some I even followed! The one that sticks with me: Luck favours the prepared mind. I had the privilege of having Dick Hamming, a legend in the Electrical Engineering world, for a professor many years ago at the US Naval Postgraduate School. Dick in his 30 years at Bell Labs had created entire disciplines of engineering including foundations of digital communications and data storage. His stated mission was to make us great engineers. In part, that translates into always being open to the opportunities around you and to have the courage to realize those opportunities.
7. What is a habit that contributes to your success?
Continuous curiosity. I am a voracious consumer of information across a wide spectrum from global politics to economics to technology. I have always been fascinated with how the world works.
8. What is your parting piece of advice?
I always think of capability in terms of people, technology, and process. Our world is transforming at a rate that is difficult for even the most clairvoyant futurists to grasp. Keep challenging the status quo of your organisation to see if it is time to reinvent to maintain relevance in the world.
9. What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset? (does not have to relate to the defence & security industry, can be related to your everyday life).
Innovation, by its very nature, requires an assumption of risk. Our government and government-sponsored institutions that used to try to drive innovation in past decades have become so encumbered with the process to mitigate risks that they have become ineffective. As Canada attempts to be competitive globally in the 4th Industrial Revolution, new solutions that embrace risk – even with public money – need to be adopted if Canada is to earn the moniker “Innovation Nation” like Israel. Google X, Facebook, and Amazon and a number of Chinese companies are the ones driving global innovation.
Questions regarding the ORGANIZATION
1. How is your organization changing the game within your industry sector?
ING is focused on operations in harsh conditions…otherwise known as flying in all of Canada all year round. We are bringing the knowledge we gained supporting CAF operations in Afghanistan and the Indian Ocean to the industrial drone space.
2. What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in our industry sector?
Defence and security procurement, like all bureaucracies, continues to be challenged when it come to acquiring capability that is evolving rapidly – like UAVs. A lot of this is just that the drone sector is so new, generally, that people have yet to imagine the impact of these capabilities on their day-to-day lives. But that is changing quickly. Over one million consumer drones have been sold in North America in the past year. This year, more unmanned aircraft will fly in Canada than manned aircraft. As people start to understand the value of information obtained from the third dimension, the demand for industrial drones, as opposed to toy drones, increases.
3. How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture and how is it being optimized?
I have a great team that innovates every day. Part of my job is to inspire and support my folks in fully exploring the solution space. This sector is the wild west of technology. There are no boxes. As a leader in the global UAV market, we get queries from potential customers all over the world pretty much daily. Whether it is a mine that needs us to operate from a base at an altitude of 15,000 feet in the Andes to delivering herding agent to deal with an oil spill in the Arctic ocean, we bring the best knowledge in the industry to the solution. My answer to most new challenging requirements is “Yes we can… now go figure it out!”
4. What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?
I view our UAV systems as airborne data-acquisition architectures where we leverage the best of breed technologies from sensors to data links to energy sources to solve real world problems. The past year has been about the one million consumer drones sold in North America. The demand for more powerful, more capable industrial drones will grow. Fortunately, for the defence and security sector, these aircraft will provide new capabilities that will be both pervasive and affordable.