Vancouver Start-up Builds Better Drone Vision

IRIS2A Canadian start-up wants to make drones more self-aware and improve their “vision” in an effort to curtail crashes with planes and people.

Vancouver-based Iris Automation (not to be confused with 3DR’s Iris) is working on new technology that would enhance drones to “see” potential obstacles and course correct using an autonomous collision avoidance system.

The drone add-on would be able to detect objects from more than a quarter-mile out and would allow UAVs to fly autonomously beyond a pilot’s line of sight.

“Think about mining surveys. Right now, you have helicopter pilots flying at crazy low heights, say 40 or 50 meters above the ground, for 10 hours a day. It’s boring and it’s so dangerous,” said Iris CEO Alexander Harmsen in a recent interview with Motherboard. “We could have a fleet of 100 drones flying seven-to-eight hours a day over huge swaths of land, and not only is that cost effective, it is so much safer for the pilots.”

While still under development, the end product will be “a combination of off-the-shelf chips and other components, and proprietary software that can learn and tell a drone’s autopilot system when there’s any obstacle nearby, and how to make adjustments instantly to avoid it,” according to TechCrunch.

Iris’ “visionary” idea has caught the eye of angel investors. Over the past year, the firm grabbed $500,000 in VC funding from Y Combinator and Bee Partners. And, perhaps without irony, Iris has conducted test flights with 3D Robotics (maker of the Iris drone).

The Canadian company’s innovation comes at a time when their government is cracking down on unsafe drone flights.

In June, Transport Canada announced a UAV education and safety campaign in anticipation of new drone regulations.

Dubbed the “No Drone Zone” project, the government plan will post signs at airports and other areas where drone flights are off limits.

“Transport Canada recommends that airports, parks, municipalities and event organizers post No Drone Zone’ signs around the perimeter of their property or event, when it is unsafe or illegal to fly drones,” says the agency.

Solutions like Iris could help mitigate disasters in the case of an errant drones violating no-drone zone airspace.

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