A young startup looks to change the course of drone aviation with their new collision avoidance system.
The US Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation have put into effect, and continue to support, laws that prohibit drone flight outside of “line of sight”—meaning that a drone cannot be piloted via camera, beyond the limited view of its pilot.
Companies like Amazon—whom are currently testing a drone delivery system in their home-town of Seattle—wouldn’t be able to make their futuristic postal service available to the public while these laws are still in place.
Sighting fear of crashing causing harm, or property damage, the regulations make a lot of sense.
This is where Vancouver-based Iris Automation aims to shake some change lose.
Iris is building situational awareness that lives on board the flying object. Essentially, the software developed will inform a drone’s autopilot system of all obstacles nearby, and guide the automated system in avoiding them.
“It’s a visual world, so drones need sight,” says Iris Automation CEO and co-founder Alex Harmsen.
Many reports of drones crashing, causing bodily harm to civilians have been reported. As far back as 2014, CBC reported a drone crash during a commercial shoot in Vancouver (the hometown of Iris Automation Inc.) which prompted the investigation of drone use by the film industry.
Earlier this year a drone crashed into the crowd at a MUSE concert in London, England, which was a prop used during the band’s live show. No one was injured at the event, but the evidence of poor piloting (usually by amateurs, and not professional drone pilots), or technological failure are sure piling up, and it would absolutely call for regulation writers to err on the side of caution.
We may yet be a few years—a decade even—away from wider commercial use of drones, and the general public having access (and a poor flying history) isn’t helping reinforce the trust in the un-maned UAVs. But I sincerely feel like advances like Iris’ hazard detection are huge gateways to a future where drones can find a better, and safer fit.
Iris Automation has raised half a million dollars in pre-seed funding, and is looking to open up an R&D division in California.