Mon · Jun 27

Iris Automation gives drones situational awareness, making autonomous delivery a reality

Iris Automation is building a collision avoidance system for drones. They are using 3D environmental reconstruction and machine learning to give drones the ability to detect and avoid any moving object or obstacle in their flight path.

Iris’s technology makes widespread, autonomous drone delivery a possibility -- and we believe what they’re building will power every commercial drone.

Amazon announced their drone delivery system more than two years ago, but we have yet to see it come to pass. The spread of drone deliveries has been limited because a human pilot is still needed to ensure flight safety. Current drone flights are drastically limited by an operator’s line of sight because there is no way to prevent a drone from colliding with anything in its path. More sophisticated software enables GPS tracking, but lacks the ability to adjust to situational changes after the coordinates are entered. Iris solves these problems. They give drones the situational awareness needed to fly autonomously over long distances.

Regulations and policies on commercial drone use are slowly emerging, and Iris is determined to play a role in their definition. “The American and European regulatory environment is really going to change over the next few years,” says Alexander Harmsen, CEO of Iris Automation. “But we’re on the Board of Directors at Unmanned Systems Canada, one of the committees that work directly with Transport Canada, to help develop the regulations and policies needed to usher in an era of commercial drone usage.”

While the unmanned aerial vehicle(UAV) market is already a billion dollar market today, it is expected to grow to $100 billion by 2020.

Iris Automation will enable the entire industry to fly drones autonomously and cheaply. But they hope to extend their impact beyond just drones. Their technology can be applied to mining exploration, agricultural monitoring, and pipeline inspection. David Birkett, CEO of Stratus Aeronautics, a company that focuses on UAV development, said of Iris: “This technology is the holy grail for the industry and our entire market is going to change with such a revolutionary product.”

“We believe Iris Automation holds one of the critical keys to unlocking the potential of the industrial drone market. Alex and James are a compelling founding team with deep experience in this burgeoning industry. We are excited to be working with them,” says Tim Brady, Partner at Y Combinator.

Iris Automation’s founders are Alexander Harmsen and James Howard. Previously, they worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Boeing R&D on computer vision drone-related projects, as well as Matternet and Spire Global. The two met at the University of British Columbia, where they started a 47-person drone team to compete across the country at national competitions.