Boeing HorizonX invests in autonomous technology developer Near Earth

Boeing Co said on Thursday it invested in Near Earth Autonomy a Pittsburgh-based firm that develops technologies enabling autonomous flight such as drones

Boeing Co said on Thursday it invested in Near Earth Autonomy a Pittsburgh-based firm that develops technologies enabling autonomous flight such as drones

Led by Sanjiv Singh, CEO, Near Earth Autonomy develops software and sensor technology that enables aircraft ranging from sub-meter to full scale to inspect, map and survey terrain and infrastructure, as well as transport cargo autonomously.

Boeing's HorizonX venture arm has invested in Near Earth Autonomy, a Carnegie Mellon spin-out company that focuses on building autonomous aircraft systems for things including site inspection, defence and potentially automated cargo delivery and personal transportation systems - i.e., flying taxis.

The move follows up on Boeing's acquisition of a more established company in the realm of autonomous flight, Aurora Flight Sciences, and underscores the fact that the aerospace giant is turning more attention to robotic flying machines.

"This partnership will accelerate technology solutions that we feel will be key to unlocking emerging markets of autonomous flight", said Boeing HorizonX vice-president Steve Nordlund. The company's expertise ranges from collision avoidance, to motion planning, to navigating without GPS and more for safe operation of autonomous drone systems.

As developments in autonomous controls, electric propulsion and vertical lift accelerate, Boeing has joined several industry leaders and new entrants pursuing an opportunity to convert trips within cities normally taken by cars into small air taxis. In 2010, the institute joined a team with Piasecki Aircraft and the US Army to demonstrate a fully autonomous flight using an MDHI MD530F light single helicopter.

In addition to the investment, Boeing and Near Earth Autonomy also announced a partnership to explore future products and applications for emerging markets such as urban mobility.

Since launching last April, Boeing's HorizonX venture capital arm has invested in startups exploring augmented reality technologies and hybrid electric commuter planes, but the Near Earth investment marks HorizonX's firsts autonomous technology venture. Boeing's HorizonX also has invested in start-up aircraft designer Zunum, which is developing a 12-seat hybrid-electric aircraft with a cockpit created to accommodate single-crew and fully autonomous operations.

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