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Your house burns out of control. An automated drone launches from a nearby base. It flies to the fire and transmits live video before the first fire truck arrives, providing critical information.

The Next Autonomous Vehicle May Be a Drone

Economic Development

Your house burns out of control. An automated drone launches from a nearby base. It flies to the fire and transmits live video before the first fire truck arrives, giving the crew critical information. The responders plan how to attack the fire even before they get to the scene.

This is just one scenario predicted for a new generation of pilotless drones that, like autonomous cars, may be the wave of the future.

One automated drone company has just opened its global headquarters in Scottsdale. Israeli-owned Airobotics, started in 2014, has quickly grown into a leading tech company with 235 employees, 40,000 automated flights and $100 million in funding. “Scottsdale provides a healthy environment for Airobotics to grow, along with other creative businesses here that are expanding the boundaries of new technologies,” said Councilmember Virginia Korte from Scottsdale. “It’s the beginning of a great partnership.”

The company began its data-collection work using certified drone pilots to fly missions. But drone pilots weren’t always available on demand. And even the best were not able to collect data at the same time, same altitude, or along the exact same flight path.

“For the true potential of drones to be met, we had to take the operator out of the system,” stated Airobotics Vice president of Global Marketing Vice President Kathy Kim during a presentation to MAG’s Economic Development Committee. “We asked, ‘What if you can have a completely automated drone system, where someone just presses a button and the drone flies out on a prescheduled mission, flies the mission, secures the area, and then comes back and lands in a box?’”

The autonomous drones are housed in a durable, weatherproof docking station. A robotic arm replaces batteries and payloads, which remain similar except for the types of data collected. Kim added that Airobotics’ fully automated solution is declared by civil aviation authorities to be safer and more reliable.

“This is the holy grail for autonomous drones, just like the autonomous car is for the future of transportation. We’re able to launch, fly, collect, land and repeat.” Airobotics Drone

Airobotics’ biggest market today is the mining industry, which uses drones for surveillance and data gathering. BHP, one of the world’s largest mining companies, has extensive operations in Arizona. It is Airobotics’ first customer in the U.S.

Other potential applications include surveying, mapping, security, and emergency services.

“We see drones coming into our lives in steps,” says Kim. “The first phase is industrial, which we are already in today. The second, after accumulating hundreds of thousands of more flights and points of data, increasing reliability and safety in the skies, we definitely see our system working in safety, such as emergency response.”

Ultimately, the company envisions automated drones in everyday commercial use, such as package delivery.

“Eventually a client could come up to the airbase, swipe it with their credit card, launch the drone, and perhaps deliver a key to a child that is locked out of their house,” she said.

Kim noted that Airobotics CEO Ran Krauss based his decision to move the headquarters to Scottsdale on a variety of factors. First, the region’s great weather for consistent flying conditions. Other critical factors were the potential for partnerships with state and local governments and regional support of autonomous and aviation technologies.

Airobotics is just one of 17 Israeli-owned companies in Arizona, and the number is growing. Leib Bolel, President of the Arizona Technology Alliance, told EDC members that many of Arizona’s biggest employers, such as Intel, Raytheon, and Honeywell, have been cultivating business with Israeli companies for years. Bolel noted that in 2017, Israel was Arizona’s ninth largest trading partner, with total trade valued at $161 million.

Published February 14, 2019

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The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) is a Council of Governments (COG) that serves as the regional planning agency for the metropolitan Phoenix area.

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