Cars of the future will be heavily reliant on their suite of sensors for proper functioning; vehicles today already pack a ton of cameras, ultrasound and radar arrays, but they mostly use these for non-core driver assistance and other features, and if they weren’t working, it wouldn’t be the end of the road because the human driver’s built-in sensors are the real fall-back.
That might not always be the case, and so Ford has filed for a new patent (via CNET) that could provide another kind of backup for onboard vehicle sensors. This is key because autonomous vehicles, and Level 5 vehicles in particular, won’t be able to fall back as easily or at all on human intervention. Ford’s patent gets around this by having a drone dock with a car whose sensors are failed or throwing errors, lending the vehicle its own onboard sensor suite as a failsafe substitute.
It’s actually a super-clever workaround that adds extravehicular redundancy to highly automated vehicles — kind of like an off-site backup for the sensory component of our future autonomous virtual drivers.
This system is, for the moment, just a patent application, which means it’s likely many steps removed from being something that you could actually see working in the real world. But there’s plenty of time for Ford to work out the kinks — truly mass market highly automated vehicles are likely at least a decade away, if not more.
There’s more than one way to get a drone out of the sky.
While many companies are looking to tech that digitally jam signals to land rogue drones, one startup is taking a more theatrical approach with a speedy drone that races at 2-3 times the speed of the fastest consumer options and takes down enemy drones that may not pop up on competitor’s systems.
Airspace Systems has built what it calls “kinetic capture” technologies, which currently consists of a ground-based system that identifies an offending unmanned aircraft, then launches its own drone to chase it down, fire a tethered net at it and carry it away.
Here’s a look the whole system in action.
In recent months, Airspace Systems has shifted attention from simply launching nets to building drone-focused autonomous systems that will allow their systems to track down other drones on their own. The company says that more than two-thirds of its 32 employees are currently working on technologies related to autonomous drone flight.
“We don’t rely on just one technology anymore, we really include machine vision, onboard radar, lidar — all of these different sensing technologies — to enable us to fly in a variety of environments and do this capture mission,” Airspace Systems COO Todd Komanetsky told TechCrunch.
As the company scales its ambitions, it’s raising more money as well. Airspace has closed a $20 million Series A funding round, TechCrunch has exclusively learned. The round was led by Singtel Innov8 with s28 Capital, Shasta Ventures and Granite Hill Capital Partners also participating. The startup has now raised $25 million to date.
The company’s announcement comes as it grows even clearer how large the market for these technologies could be.
Just last week, word emerged that the White House is going to be proposing that law enforcement gain the ability to track and disable civilian drones. As is the case with many facets of the tech industry, legislation has been slow to catch up with the rapidly advancing technologies of the drone industry. Airspace saw the writing on the wall for this one though and the company’s CEO Jaz Banga sits aboard the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee alongside representatives from companies like DJI, Amazon and Facebook.
“Demand for protecting stadiums, commercial buildings, power plants and, for that matter, any other public venues from potential drone threats is growing rapidly,” Singtel Innov8 managing director Jeff Karras said in a statement. “There are a number of important drone defense technologies flooding the market but there has not been one which integrates all the best capabilities under a single platform until the solutions developed by Airspace.”
It’s one thing to dispatch a drone when an accident happens to get an aerial overview of what’s happening on the ground, but you get far better situational awareness if you can use augmented reality (AR) to add the names of roads, the location of key personnel, cars and other assets to that view. That’s what Edgybees, a Santa Clara-based startup that current specializes in AR for drones, offers first responders. Its system has already been used by emergency teams during the Northern California wildfires and hurricane floods in Florida.
The company today announced that it has raised a $5.5 million seed funding round that includes Motorola Solutions Venture Capital, and Verizon Ventures, as well as 8VC, NFX, Aspect Ventures and Israeli crowdfunding platform OurCrowd.
The company plans to use the new funding to bring its existing AR technology, which I recently saw in action during a drone demo with Israel’s volunteer first responder organization United Hatzalah in Jerusalem, to other platforms and to enter new verticals. These include defense, smart cities, automotive and broadcast media.
Last year, Edgybees also partnered with drone manufacturer DJI to use its AR systems to build a racing game. That’s not really the company’s focus these days, but it shows the power of the platform the team has built.
“What started as technology powering a racing game is now saving lives around the world,” co-founder and CEO Adam Kaplan writes in today’s announcement. “The overwhelming response by commercial and industrial drone users looking to leverage AR, and partner with us in the fields of fire, public safety, and search & rescue has been amazing, and we can’t wait to expand the next set of drone applications into new markets.”
Kaplan previously co-founded a number of companies, while his CTO Menashe Haskin was previously the head of Amazon’s Prime Air office in Israel.
If you have purchased a drone in the last year or two, there’s a high likelihood that it only emerges from your gadget closet a few times per year, if that. That probably doesn’t leave you feeling too great about your purchase, but it also leaves an expensive piece of professional equipment lying dormant that a lot of people could use.
DroneBase is a startup that connects drone users with commercial missions so that they can keep the dust from settling on their flying funcopters while also honing their skills and getting paid in the process. People or businesses that are interested in getting drone footage of a property for, say, real estate or insurance purposes, can use the startup to connect with a DJI drone pilot with the skills and equipment to get the video or images they need.
The LA-based startup has announced that it has closed a $12 million Series B funding round co-led by Upfront Ventures and Union Square Ventures. DJI, Hearst Ventures and Pritzker Group also participated in the round.
“This round marks DJI’s third investment in DroneBase through SkyFund, which demonstrates our confidence in their continued success in an industry that, while growing at a rapid pace, is just at the beginning of realizing its full potential,” DJI exec Jan Gasparic said in a statement.
In addition to announcing their latest round of funding, DroneBase is also showing off a new augmented reality enterprise tool that the company hopes will get pro users a birds-eye view of 3D models. AirCraft Pro is in its earliest stages now where users are able to drop scaled blocks into the augmented world as they fly their drone around.
It’s a bit of a game-like environment right now, but the company hopes to use the technology to make imports of realistic CAD models into live drone video snap to their future real world locations.
“There’s unfortunately no ARKit for drones so we’ve had to build some decently sophisticated technology,” DroneBase co-founder and CEO Dan Burton told TechCrunch. “It’s a lot around syncing telemetry data with video data with geospatial data.”
The drone piloting service for DJI owners has also previously only been available to iOS devices but the company is now announcing that the app has arrived in the Google Play Store for Android users. The company has tens of thousands of DJI drone pilots using their app, who have now flown over 100,000 commercial drone missions across more than 60 countries.
The 2018 Winter Olympics officially kick off with Friday’s Opening Ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The temptation to fly a shiny new drone over the action will no doubt be great for amateur filmmakers and photographers in the immediate area, but DJI’s working to put the kibosh on things by implementing a temporary no-fly zone around sports arenas in the country.
The flight restrictions will arrive as a part of an update to drone software, instituting restrictions or the duration of the games this month in the South Korean cities of Pyeongchang, Gangneung, Bongpyeong and Jeongseon. The size of the zone is determined by recommendations from aviation authorities.
The reasons for the restrictions are pretty clear — avoiding collision and other disruptions caused by flying too close to the action. “Safety is DJI’s top priority and we’ve always taken proactive steps to educate our customers to operate within the law and where appropriate, implement temporary no-fly zones during major events,” the company said in a statement. “We believe this feature will reduce the potential for drone operations that could inadvertently create safety or security concerns.”
This has become pretty standard practice for the company around various big events in recent years. In the past, DJI has implemented temporary restrictions around the Euro 2016 soccer tournament in France, both major party conventions ahead of the 2016 presidential election and the G7 Summit in Japan.
The only thing growing faster than the global drone population is the population of people thinking “how can I knock these annoying things out of the sky?” DroneShield offers a way to do just that, and now in a much more portable package, with the DroneGun Tactical — that is, if you’re an authorized government agent, which I doubt.
Over the last few years, the Australian company DroneShield has been showing off its DroneGun, essentially a high-powered antenna that blasts drones’ own antennas with a signal powerful enough that it drowns out the controller’s instructions. Many drones in such a situation treat this like a loss of signal, and attempt to make a safe landing or, if GPS isn’t also scrambled, return to a known location.
The problem with the DroneGun is that it’s really big, requiring a backpack with the batteries and other components in addition to the rifle-like gun itself.
I’m aware the pictures shown here are renders, but upon asking I was assured the device is in production. They already made the original, so I don’t doubt it.
DroneShield claims that the Tactical will drop drones more than a kilometer away (about half the distance of the original), though you’ll need to maintain line of sight; if the drone reestablishes signal with its controller, it might just take off again. You should get an hour or two of straight jamming, more than enough to take down a dozen UAVs. A GPS blocker add-on is also available, which makes it all the more sure that the rogue craft will simply descend instead of flying home.
I can certainly think of a few recent situations where I would have liked to bring an irresponsibly piloted drone down safely to give it a good stomp. But unfortunately ordinary folks like myself are strictly prohibited from getting their hands on one of these things.
The FCC hasn’t approved the device for use in the U.S., meaning it’s illegal to operate one unless you’re an authorized agent of the government; for example, someone testing it for the military. (The Tactical, in fact, was developed “following comprehensive international military end-user trials.”)
When I asked DroneShield’s CEO if these devices were likely to ever get FCC approval, he simply responded “no.” Well, at least he’s honest. You can learn more over at the company’s site.
Drones may still be having a tough time dispelling the notion that they’re just expensive toys when it comes to the consumer space, but in the world of commercial applications, the autonomous aircraft are having a much easier time proving their worth.
PrecisionHawk, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based startup, has closed a Series D round, nabbing $75M in new capital that will help it seize on what it believes will be a forthcoming boom in commercial drone technologies brought about by an increasingly friendly regulatory environment.
The round was led by Third Point Ventures. In addition to a laundry list of previous investors, the round brought on investments from new partners like Comcast Ventures, Senator Investor Group, Constellation Technology Ventures and Syngenta Ventures. The drone company has raised $104 million to date according to CrunchBase.
PrecisionHawk’s technology enables customers to gather aerial data and analytics so they can understand the environment that they’re surveying. The startup sells drone hardware, sensors and analytics packages to customers. Its customers include Monsanto, Exxon Mobil, the USAA and many others.
“We’ve become an end-to-end solution provider for customers that are looking to implement drone technologies,” CEO Michael Chasen told TechCrunch in an interview.
A major focus for the company has been agriculture, but it’s seeing a lot of growth in areas like energy and insurance as well as non-military government uses. Focus has been strongly centered on domestic growth, but with the new funding the company is also looking toward international markets further. The company highlighted a recent bit from Goldman Sachs Research which highlighted that the drone space’s fastest growth is set to come from businesses and civil governments who are expected to spend $13 billion on drones through 2020.
Chasen sees the round itself as a bit of validation for how bright the outlook has become for commercial drone applications.
“The fact that we were able to raise so much capital from a great series of investors… I think that’s showing how much of a focus and belief there is that this technology is really going to be something that isn’t just revolutionizing the drone industry, but that drones themselves–as the touch-all for industries like agriculture, construction, energy, insurance and government–can fundamentally change and improve the way that these companies do business,” Chasen said.
One day, they may yet turn against us, but for now, they’re still our allies: A drone rescued two teenage swimmers in distress off the coast of New South Wales in Australia, according to a new report. The drone spotted two teenagers in trouble around a half-a-mile out from shore, and then dropped a flotation device it carries for the purpose to give them something to hang on to (via Verge).
This drone was actually not supposed to be saving anyone just yet – it was engaged in a pilot project to test its viability. But the Sydney Morning Herald reports that when a call came through about the swimmers in trouble, the drone happened to be in the Ari and nearby, positioned well to respond.
The drone’s pilot, a decorated veteran lifeguard for New South Wales, was able to Gert out to the swimmers’ position, and drop the pod in a minute or two, which is at least a few minutes less than it would’ve taken to respond directly with actual flesh and blood lifeguards.
This training exercise was designed to get lifeguard staff familiar with the so-called “Little Ripper” drone, which is part of a government plan to help mitigate the risk of shark attacks. Its ability to save the swimmers was an accident, but a lucky accident that definitely helps prove its viability as part of the $16 million government program.
Also, it’s a reminder that sometimes, drones are actually good.
Boeing just revealed a prototype drone capable of carrying much more than a camera. The company tasked engineers with designing and building a cargo drone and the prototype they came up with is able to haul 500 lbs of goods.
The vehicle is huge and much larger than anything DJI sells. It weighs 747 pounds and is 15 feet long, 18 feet wide and 4 feet tall. Four arms hold two props each. It took Boeing engineers three months to design and construct the prototype, which just completed a test run in Boeing’s research lab in Missouri.
“This flying cargo air vehicle represents another major step in our Boeing eVTOL strategy,” said Boeing chief technology officer Greg Hyslop in a statement. “We have an opportunity to really change air travel and transport, and we’ll look back on this day as a major step in that journey.”
The company did not release official flight capabilities including range or speed. Those will come in time and chances are this vehicle will never be produced but used as a testbed for technologies that will lead to cargo and vehicle drones.