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Success Stories

Client Spotlight: Chad Armstrong, Co-Founder and CEO of Shearwater Aerospace

Chad Armstrong is a serial entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience leading software companies. After exiting his last startup, Chad co-founded Shearwater Aerospace to revolutionize drone technology by using atmospheric energy to extend flight times, improve efficiency, and fly faster.

July 8, 2024

The fastest way to get from point A to point B might seem like a straight line, but that is not always the case—and it is not always the most efficient way, either.

Serial entrepreneur Chad Armstrong and Shearwater Aerospace are helping drone operators maximize their flight time with an innovative approach to drone flight planning. Smart Flight, the startup’s artificial intelligence(AI)-powered platform, optimizes routes to take advantage of atmospheric energy to extend drone flight time, reduce energy usage, and fly faster.

Searching the skies for a new idea

Armstrong is a Montreal native who earned his degree in electrical engineering from McGill University and an MBA from INSEAD. Over the last 15 years, he has led multiple software companies and most recently sold a clinical decision support software startup he founded to a US-based company.

He worked for the acquiring company for three years, and that’s when the entrepreneurial itch started again.

“I missed the pace of innovation in the startup world. I started looking around in Montreal to see what was going on in the startup space and got connected with Alex, who's the co-founder at Shearwater. I liked what they were working on and decided to join them,” Armstrong says.

The startup is named after the Shearwater bird, which migrates over 64,000 kilometres in a year. Armstrong says the inspiration for the startup came from studies on how these birds manage their long-distance migrations.

“We're enabling drones to fly in a similar manner to how birds fly. We want to bring the endurance level of the Shearwater bird to the drone space. We do this by helping drone operators tap into different types of atmospheric energy,” he says.

Multiple types of atmospheric energy exist, including thermal updrafts, ridge lifts, and tailwinds. When you see a bird circling around in the sky without flapping their wings, it’s an example of leveraging atmospheric energy in flight.

Flying farther and faster

Armstrong describes their mission as helping drone operators fly much longer, faster, and more often with something they call AI and wind-powered autonomy. He says one of the most significant challenges for drone operators today, whether in the commercial or defence space, is that there is no easy way to scale their operations and maximize the full potential of their fleets.

“Conventional operations require a roster of trained remote pilots for each drone in operation. The capability and availability of these pilots really limits the performance of the drones, leading to their underutilization. This results in missed opportunities and operations that end up being much more costly and cumbersome.”

Shearwater Aerospace is breaking down these barriers to operational efficiency with SmartFlight. The solution uses AI to optimize and automate flight operations and reduce the dependency on human pilots. Smart Flight allows one operator to command multiple drones by simply setting their goal. Then, Smart Flight will dynamically determine optimal actions, coordinating drones and guiding them along wind-powered routes that avoid no-fly zones, obstacles, and inclement weather.

“This all culminates in drones being able to fly eight times longer and 30% faster, which unlocks a lot of new opportunities and enables much safer and scalable operations,” Armstrong says.

Another advantage of SmartFlight is that it’s a software solution that can be used with virtually any drone hardware.

“We don't require any additional hardware because we're leveraging information that comes from the existing sensors on the drone.”

Leveraging the Aerospace Accelerator Program

Shearwater Aerospace is one of the startups selected for the inaugural Aerospace Accelerator Program. The program aims to foster the growth and development of cutting-edge aerospace technologies while contributing to the economic and technological advancement of the Region of Waterloo. The program is supported by the region and NAVBLUE.

Armstrong says the program's focus on all things aerospace has opened up new opportunities for the startup.

“Aerospace is certainly broader than just drones. We've had some interesting discussions with the folks at NAVBLUE, who are more on the manned aviation side. But they have similar flight planning challenges, just with much larger aircraft that fly at higher altitudes.”

He adds that they’re still in the early stages of the program but have several meetings lined up to explore new opportunities for Shearwater Aerospace. Two of the core markets the startup is focusing on are delivery and surveillance. Armstrong says the platform offers drone delivery operators significant cost savings compared to traditional flight planning tools.

“We’ve shown how we can substantially increase the number of on-time orders by intelligently scheduling and dispatching orders to drones to leverage favorable wind conditions. For surveillance, tapping into thermal wind energy allowed a drone to fly for over an hour and 45 minutes while only using its battery for seven of those minutes,” he says.

Shearwater Aerospace is currently exploring go-to-market opportunities with drone manufacturers and ground control software companies, including aerospace leader Lockheed Martin.

“We are working with several other leading OEMs in the space and we're also working with several Ukrainian drone manufacturers to bring our technology over to the frontline. We’re enabling these customers to tap into free energy that's out there that no one else is leveraging.”

Visit to learn more about how Shearwater Aerospace is improving drone efficiency.