A startup based in Petah Tikva, Israel, Airobotics, has scored the right to fly drones autonomously for business purposes in Israel. The Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI) was the first in the world to authorize commercial, fully unmanned drone flights in their nation’s airspace.
Airobotics’ drones are marketed for use in site surveying, security and other industrial applications. Allowing these drones to fly sans operator means that companies can run inspections for miles along power lines, train tracks or acres of farmland, for example, without humans positioned along the route or token interruptions for point-checks.
The startup’s self-flying, quadcopter drones launch and land from a base station where they can swap out spent batteries for newly charged ones. Running for 30 minutes at a time, Airobotics drones can launch and precisely land themselves. Proprietary software and on-board sensors enable them to navigate, avoid obstacles and complete planned missions without the intervention of a human operator.
So-called “beyond visual line of sight” capabilities are not unique to Airobotics’ drones. Parrot company SenseFly SA in Switzerland, aerospace giants Boeing via their Insitu Inc. subsidiary, and Heliscope in partnership with Scoptio in Denmark are among companies already safety-testing these systems. In the U.S., the state of North Dakota has given Harris Corporation permission to develop and test its BVLOS systems.
However, Airobotics is the first to successfully commercialize truly autonomous drones in the private sector. Its drones can also land within a tight space, which is more unique among drone manufacturers and operators.
The company raised $28.5 million in venture funding last year from investors including BlueRun Ventures, and Noam Bardin, chief executive of Google-owned Waze, and Richard Wooldridge, formerly the chief operating officer for Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects.
At this rate, it seems self-flying drones will be circulating in the skies long before self-driving cars are commonplace on our roads.
Corrections: An earlier version of this post called Noam Bardin an “ex-googler.” He is still “Chief Wazer” at Google. We regret the error.