Jose Cruz is an entrepreneur, aerospace engineer and co-founder of ComQuest Ventures, which specializes in drone design, building and consulting. The company is based in Itoshima, where they have a government approved testing ground where they fly their drones. From VR racing drones to disaster relief surveillance, Jose and his team do it all.
In Japan: Five years
Nationality: Puerto Rican
Identity: Systems Engineer specializing in Electronics Engineering
Did you walk or fly here today?
I wish I could fly, coming from Itoshima
Tell us about your background
I was born in the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. My connection with Japan started when I was a child, I had this fascination with Japanese culture, Japanese everything: food, Buddhism, martial arts and once I got a bit older and was at university I came to visit Japan with friends. That visit increased my fascination and I said to myself ‘one day I want to live in Japan.’ That trip was to Tokyo, Kyoto, the usual places, I’d actually not heard of Fukuoka at that point.
But then I started thinking about actually coming to Japan, and one day I was in Canada at a scientific conference, and I met a Kyudai student who introduced me to Fukuoka. I did an internship here and through the internship I entered Kyudai, and that’s how I ended up here.
And what were you studying?
I was doing a doctorate in Information Science. Before that I did a Bachelors and Masters in Computer engineering in Puerto Rico.
How were you exposed to Japanese culture? Does Puerto Rico have a Japanese scene?
Let’s see, my father is interested in Asian philosophies and he would talk to me about them. He also got me into karate classes and I was a big fan of Nintendo.
We heard you are developing drones, drones are quite the hot topic / industry now – what was your first exposure?
All this started between myself and my brother. He’s an aerospace engineer and I’m a computer engineer. I’ve been interested in computers ever since I was small, and he was the same but with airplanes. When we were about to graduate, we decided we didn’t want to go down a traditional path, and we wanted to work together and combine our skills. This was in 2011, and drones were just starting to become accessible to the public. For DIYers and people who wanted to do their own thing, components and accessories started becoming available. We started buying parts and developing technologies, and it eventually evolved into the company we have today.
So is your brother working with you here in Japan?
The company is actually distributed between Japan, Puerto Rico and the US. My brother is working in the US. I’m working in Fukuoka along with Ginjiro Nishijima, who is the marketing strategist. Us three form the core team of the company.
And where are the drones?
We have some in Fukuoka, some in the US and I’ve actually got one with me here today.
So what do guys actually do in your company?
The company is an aerospace company but rather than producing and selling drones, what we focus on more is helping companies who want to use drones to develop and customize their own drone. To do that we have developed our own software to design drones, and you can test out your ideas in a virtual environment. We also work with companies to create new aircraft from scratch or optimize an aircraft or plan missions or meet their needs when it comes to new sensors and artificial intelligence. Right now we’re working with companies in the Japan and the US and we actually created this drone for a company who wanted to make racing drones. So yes, we’re more of a drone consulting business.
What industries are the companies you work with in?
A lot of companies are doing land surveying with aerial photography, but we also have plans for disaster relief operations and of course, drone racing.
On your website, you have something that’s very special, the fixed wing drone…
Yes, there are basically three main types of drones. One is fixed wing, basically like a traditional airplane. These are for long distance flights, and you need a small airstrip to take off and land. Then you have multicopters, which have upwards pointing propellers and are mainly used for hovering and more vertical movement. But what we’ve been specializing in is vertical take-off and landing airplanes (VTOL). They have a fixed wing, so they can travel long distances, but they can take off and land like a multicopter. They can change between propulsion systems, so that they can move forward like an airplane, but once they need to land, they can move vertically like a multicopter. The benefit of this is you can have aircraft that can fly long distances but land in very restricted spaces.
We’ve developed two of these VTOL models. One of these we developed with the support of Fukuoka City and we’ve been developing it for disaster response applications. If you have a disaster such as an earthquake, the idea is you can send in several of these units to take realtime snapshots of the affected area.
When you say long distance, how far do you mean?
The SR-1 which we’ve been developing can fly 47km in a straight line, and for about 50 minutes on one battery. We’ve also developed autonomous flight control for the drone so it can complete missions without the need of an active pilot.
Are you the only guys making these VTOL drones?
In Japan there is one other company, and there are a few other companies around the world also developing these drones. It’s difficult because horizontal and vertical flight require very different propulsion and to achieve both effectively in one drone is hard to do. That’s why we developed our drone design tool in the first place, to optimize our VTOL design.
What are your goals? Researching, manufacturing?
Eventually we’d also like to manufacture our drones, but it’s very interesting consulting with different companies as each has a different problem and challenge. With respect to our software, we hope that it becomes the standard tool for private companies and universities to design and optimize their drones.
I have a company and I need a drone to do some land surveying. I come to you, what happens next?
In this case there are readily available options for you which we can suggest and then make sure suit the needs of the problem through further research and development. But say you’re a company who wants to use drones to monitor radiation in Fukushima, if the budgets there we can help you design a drone from scratch, or work with existing hardware to create a drone that incorporates radiation detecting sensors or other features.
The drone sphere is booming, it must be very competitive, where do you get your confidence?
Well we’re not actually competing with companies directly, we’re working with drone users, developers, manufacturers, and drone consulting isn’t so common. We’re also the only ones with our technology, so that fills us with confidence.
What are the main challenges working in Japan?
Business culture in Japan is quite unique, in the way you interact with clients and make new connections. This is something I’ve been learning a lot about from Ginjiro.
In terms of drone business, there are very strict airspace and radio frequency restrictions which stop us flying in lots of places. That’s why we have our research field out in Itoshima, but even then we’re limited to a small flight area. Also, radio transmitters have to be approved to be used in Japan. This limits us for example in being able to transmit live video over long distances. This is gradually being eased though. Also, the City is being really supportive, they’ve given us lots of support and helped us out as a startup company.
How do you see drone technology developing?
A lot more use in rural areas, where they can be flown more safely. And eventually, which is Google and Amazon’s vision, using them for delivery with cities having dedicated drone ports. They’ll also have a use in security and policing. But the safety of the technology is not quite there yet.
And where do you hope to be in the next five years?
We want to create a strong engineering team here in Fukuoka, and as we expand we want to explore other areas, not just drones but other things such as ground and aquatic robots, and internet of things devices.
Do you have any tips for wannabe drone builders?
Get online, buy a DIY kit, and start building! You can make a drone in just a day or two and have it flying.
Where’s your favorite place in Fukuoka?
Nanzoin Temple with the Big Buddha
Where’s your favorite place to fly a drone in Fukuoka?
Itoshima – our test field is near Chikuzen-Maebaru
If there’s one place you wish you could fly your drone in Fukuoka, where would it be?
Where’s your favorite place to eat in Fukuoka?
There’s an izakaya in Hatai built by a carpenter. It’s called Takohachi.
What’s your favorite Japanese word or expression?
七転び八起き (nanakorobi yaoki), or fall seven times and stand up eight.
Do you have any advice to newly arrived foreigners in Fukuoka?
People say Japanese people don’t talk to them, but I think that’s because many of them are shy. So just open yourself up and make the first move. Everyone’s so nice and welcoming.
When’s your favorite time of the year in Fukuoka?
You can find out more about Jose by visiting the ComQuest Ventures website.
It’s our pleasure to introduce the many interesting non-Japanese living in and around Fukuoka. If you know of someone whose activities might be of interest to other readers, please let us know.
Interview by Oscar Boyd. Interview on Feb. 22, 2017.