Iris Automation has announced an $8 million USD Series A financing round.
The Vancouver-founded company, now based in San Francisco, is a leading provider of collision avoidance systems for commercial drones. This recent round of funding was led by Bessemer Venture Partners with participation from Bee Partners. Bessemer partner David Cowan will join Iris Automation’s board of directors.
The funding will go towards further “unlocking” technologies for the autonomous flying robotics industry. In this sense, unlocking means developing technology to let drones fly themselves without any kind of human interaction. This is done through a combination of AI, computer vision and sensor fusion, all combining to create a situational awareness platform that vastly minimizes the risk of mid-air collision.
The funding will also go towards hiring more engineers and scaling technology to participate in the White house’s upcoming UAS Integration Pilot Projects, an initiative that will see various levels of U.S. governments working with private entities to integrate safe methods of unmanned aerial system control.
As drones become more powerful and the batteries used to fly them become more efficient, the need for autonomous technology will increase tenfold. Industries such as farming, infrastructure, oil and gas, and even human transportation can make use of Iris Automation’s technology. However, there is still a certain lack of trust from regulators surrounding how drones are flown, so to increase safety they will need to have sensors and intelligent systems designed to avoid contact and bring that situational awareness up to, and beyond, what human pilots have now.
“Iris Automation’s approach to sensing is unlike anything ever attempted in the autonomous vehicle space,” said Alexander Harmsen, CEO of Iris Automation. “Our team of experts in computer vision, machine learning, and traditional aviation have built a product that will provide the level of safety necessary for pushing the boundaries of what is possible with drones, at a size factor and price point unheard of in the world of aviation.”
Traditional guidance solutions like radar used on planes and helicopters are too heavy, costly and power-intensive to use on small drones, so Iris Automation takes advantage of things like cell phone camera technology. By using this constantly-improving and scaling technology and combining it with machine learning and computer vision algorithms, collision-avoidance detection is possible for smaller UAVs like drones.
Iris Automation’s platform consists of an embedded computing platform and a high-resolution vision-based sensing package that can detect moving objects. This allows the UAV to see something from up to 500 metres away then maneuver away from it. All of this technology is condensed into a 300-gram system that has the footprint of a credit card.
The system is currently in beta onboard dozens of drones around the world, with more early adopters being accepted through the first quarter of 2018.
This latest funding announcement comes exactly one year to the day after Iris Automation’s $1.5 million seed funding.