AERAS’ patented charged-electrostatic drone sanitized Churchill Downs in 2021 and 2022. Photo by Sparq Designs.

AERAS, a Pittsburgh-based drone company, literally took off during the pandemic.

The company’s patented, unmanned aerial systems are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to sanitize indoor and outdoor venues. AERAS drones disinfect PPG Paints Arena before every Penguins game and go to bat for the Pirates at PNC Park.

In May, the robots led the charge at the Kentucky Derby by cleaning up Churchill Downs.

AERAS CEO Eric Lloyd and Chief Innovation Officer Justin Melanson founded the company in 2020. Photo by Sparq Designs.

Now, the company’s co-founders Eric Lloyd and Justin Melanson want to take the technology to new heights, branching out from commercial sanitization to precision agriculture, infrastructure inspection and public safety.

The friends and business partners formed the company in 2020, just as Covid brought normal life to a standstill. Melanson, a longtime drone enthusiast who grew up Amish, and Lloyd, an entrepreneur with two indoor ax-throwing locations, brainstormed about ways to use the flying devices for the greater good.

From their headquarters in Evans City, they create electrostatic sprayers to produce a uniform output of small droplets of disinfectant. These droplets sanitize 200,000 square feet of surfaces per hour but repel one another, ensuring a uniform coating to protect against Covid and other pathogens. AERAS’ drones can completely sanitize large-scale venues in less than three hours.

AERAS CIO Justin Melanson uses the company’s drone technology to clean Churchill Downs. Photo by Sparq Designs.

That technology has been integrated into other sprayer products and services, including a backpack fogger that looks like a Ghostbusters proton pack and the AERAS-Mini, a handheld device for home and office use. The company partnered with model Kathy Ireland on the mini, its first direct-to-consumer product that sells for $399.

AERAS’ large-scale 55-pound drone requires FAA certification to operate so the company offers an internship program to help aspiring commercial drone pilots earn their licenses.

Lloyd and Melanson believe they can do just about anything with a drone … and that includes saving lives. They’ve developed training programs for local and national law enforcement agencies on how drones can be used in search-and-rescue missions. And Melanson donates his time and expertise to help authorities find missing people.

Lloyd is proud of what they’ve accomplished through AERAS — which is the Greek word for wind — even though it hasn’t been a breeze.

“I’ve lived in New York and L.A. I’ve done work in Silicon Valley,” says Lloyd. “I don’t’ think there’s a better place in the U.S. for it. Pittsburgh will continue to be a driving force in the tech space.”

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.