Israeli-based Airobotics received the first authorization in the world for completely autonomous flight earlier this spring – and the company has been demonstrating the technology around the world ever since.
The Airobotics system, which they demonstrated at AUVSI’s Xponential show this week, is dramatic to watch: a sleek cube slides open at the top to prepare a drone for its mission. But the system isn’t just for show, it’s a life-saving tool in some applications.
The first application focus for the completely unmanned system is in mining and aggregates. “There is no more dangerous place to work than a mine,” says Yahel Nov, Airobotic’s Vice President of Business Development. “Every minute that we are flying is a half hour that a person does not have to be there. The system changes a person’s job from doing a dangerous, manual task of collecting data and allows them to be a person who interprets data.”
Mining is only the first of many civil uses for the system, including security, surveying, inspection and emergency response. “We partner with early adopters to develop tailored solutions,” says Nov. “We have a modular, versatile system – we are always finding new applications.”
The concept of an autonomous system offers benefit not only in safety but in speed of action. Nov points out that a completely unmanned system can allow for a faster response to an emergency; the Airobotics solution connects systems for an on-demand response from other drones. In the case of one drone identifying a potential fire threat, for example, other drones could be automatically sent to the location of the threat in order to stream video or provide further intelligence to a response team all in the first few moments, while personnel was preparing their response and getting to the location.
While the idea of getting a drone to do a dangerous job may seem sufficient to argue in favor of the system, the company has worked for years in collaboration with Israeli airspace regulators to prove the safety of totally automated systems definitively. “Just like with autonomous vehicles, in order to make it legal you have to prove that it’s 50X safer,” says Nov. “You need an exclamation point, not a period. We prove it by having a defined area, no people, and bringing the regulators along with us – we use their methods of risk mitigation and control.”
The collaboration with authorities took time – but the results provide a strong basis for legalizing the systems in other countries also. “We’ve come a long way and generated a lot of trust,” Nov says. “We listened to them, and we designed our vehicle based on their input. At the end of the day its their responsibility to make it safe – it’s in our interest to comply.”
Efrat Fenigson, Airobotics Vice President of Marketing, says that regulators in other countries have already reached out to company specialists to learn about the system. “They work as a community,” says Fenigson. “Globally, regulators are interested in learning from one another.”
With Airobotics leading the way to present the safety case for autonomous drones, the technology may quickly be accepted around the world.