NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Jeff Bezos may spin golden media flights of fancy with flying drones. But Nelson Paez has made real money from them.
"'Drones' is not the best term for this sort of craft," said Paez, CEO of DreamHammer, a Santa Monica, Calif., drone control software firm. "What they really are, are remote asset management systems. And what you learn being in this business is to plan for the business to unfold in unexpected ways."
Paez and his chief technology officer, Chris Diebner, graciously spent 90-plus minutes with me on the phone this week trying to walk me through what on earth Amazon (AMZN) "air boss" Jeff Bezos was talking about with his so-called Amazon Prime Air, an unmanned flying drone home delivery technology set to go into service as early as 2015.
Paez and his 75-person firm have not only spent the past four years developing and operating a control system called Ballista, similar to what Amazon would theoretically need to fly Prime Air; the company actually got paid selling it to many of the world's biggest and most experienced manufacturers in the growing $7 billion unmanned aircraft industry.
"When the Navy tested their common control system for all their unmanned assets, including drones and satellites," he said, "ours is the control system they used."
Now certainly, Paez and Diebner are unabashed unmanned vehicle boosters. DreamHammer was founded in 2008 with the express purpose of commercializing exactly this kind of military unmanned aircraft technology for the private sector.
"Our software was built to be like Google Maps. Anybody can jump on the system, point and click and fly a drone," Paez said. "And investors need to understand the golden goose in all this. Just like mainframes in 1979, there is the well-understood path of efficiencies and privatization created by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates with PCs still ahead for unmanned transport."
But even so, spend any time talking with these two seasoned drone pros and it becomes clear that many, many gremlins need to be hammered out before drones -- even those from the geniuses at Amazon -- will be let loose in American skies.
"The supply chain logistics that Amazon is talking about is exciting, but it is really down the road," Paez said. "Where the near-term opportunity is, is in higher-value assets found in farming, oil and gas and the like."