When you think of cleaning a building, you might think of people hanging out of a lift to reach windows many stories above the ground. You might think of the force of a power washer.

Lucid Drone Technologies wants you to forget all that.

Instead, Lucid co-founder and CEO Andrew Ashur says the future of clean buildings is not in humans, but in drones.

Ashur and two friends founded Lucid in 2017 while studying at Davidson College. The idea came after they saw workers washing windows high above the ground, their platform swinging back and forth in the wind.

“It seemed like an obvious thought,” Ashur said. “How could we leverage technology to make that a safer, more efficient job?”

At first, Ashur and his co-founders, who are no longer at Lucid, tried making their drones by modifying ones they bought. They spent about $50,000 on three drones made by the company DJI, Ashur said, but technical issues prevented them from building the product they envisioned.

They would have to make their own.

“I essentially locked myself in this attic above a garage for three months where I taught myself the ins and outs of the mechanical, electrical and software engineering to build our first drones,” said Ashur, who studied economics and Spanish — not engineering — at Davidson.

A C1 Cleaning Drone demonstrates its ability in cleaning buildings and windows Friday. The drone is built by Lucid Drone Technologies in Charlotte. JEFF SINER [email protected]

Money was tight, and Ashur said he sometimes skipped meals to save up enough to buy drone parts.

He was eventually able to build a drone that could perform simple automated maneuvers. Before long, Lucid was accepted into Y Combinator, a startup acceleration program in Silicon Valley that helped launch companies like Airbnb, DoorDash and Reddit.

How it works

Lucid now employs about 20 people, 15 of them full-time. In October, the company outsourced manufacturing to Harrah Enterprise, based in Cornelius, which makes race car transmissions and other high-end robotics.

Lucid drones have six propellers and connect to a hose on the ground. They’re authorized to fly up to 110 feet — about 10 stories — and hold two batteries, each of which can power 15 to 20 minutes of flight.

They’re controlled with a hand-held remote, much like a video game.

The drones use a technique called soft washing. Instead of power washing, which can damage some surfaces, the low pressure alternative can be used just about anywhere.

Ashur said clients have used the drones to clean country club buildings, residential roofs, church steeples and college campuses, in addition to commercial buildings.

Lucid sells primarily to cleaning companies, not to the owners of buildings in need of a wash. Their pitch is simple, Ashur said: “We want to help you do more jobs in less time with less liability.”

That pitch seems to be working. Lucid is approaching 100 clients in 15 states, including Cape Fear Community College and several washing companies in North Carolina.

The Southeast is Lucid’s main market because the heat and humidity make mold growth more widespread, Ashur said. But Lucid has sold drones to companies as far away as Stanford Health Care in California.

Lucid’s basic package costs $29,000, with higher-end plans customized for each client. The company provides the training materials operators need to get the proper certification to operate the drone.

Andrew Ashur, CEO and founder of Lucid Drone Technologies in Charlotte, with one of the company’s drones cleaning a building in the background on Friday. Lucid Drone Technologies has built drones to clean buildings and windows. JEFF SINER [email protected]

Multiple uses

During the height of the pandemic, with few people working in office buildings and even fewer willing to pay to wash those buildings, Lucid turned its attention to stadiums.

Carrying an onboard tank, Lucid drones disinfected seating at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta and Kyle Field stadium at Texas A&M University, among others.

The cleaning drone returned to service in April 2021, and business has been growing since then, Ashur said.

Next, he hopes to expand to painting buildings with drones.

Much of the technology Lucid already uses for cleaning would stay the same, Ashur said, and he doesn’t think it’ll be too big of a jump to spray a building with paint rather than cleaning solution.

“Thinking about all those opportunities is really exciting,” he said.

This story was originally published July 12, 2022 5:55 AM.

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Gabe Castro-Root is an intern on the business desk at The Charlotte Observer. Originally from San Francisco, he is studying journalism and sustainability at American University in Washington, D.C.