Iris Automation Is Taking the Global Drone Industry by Storm


Iris Automation, a global leader in the development of state-of-the “sense and avoid” technology, is beginning to take the drone industry by storm.

Founded in 2011, the Reno, NV-based company offers highly advanced onboard and off-board sensor systems that allow drone users to scan the airspace surrounding their flight trajectories to detect and avoid potential physical and human obstacles.

Until recently, Iris focused most of its efforts on companies conducting routine inspections of public power grids, oil and gas refineries and other major infrastructure.

However, in the past two years alone, the Reno, NV-based safety avionics company has forged new partnerships with a half a dozen first-responder agencies as well as UAV  companies seeking to acquire FAA approval for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone flights without the need for visual observation.

One of the latest examples is the budding Iris partnership with Drone-Up, which conducts remote package delivery operations with Walmart in 34 cities in six US states.  Iris is helping Drone Up to deploy its Casia-G ground-based sensors that detect potential obstacles to UAV flight trajectories and alert drone operators to the need to change course to avoid potential collisions.

In theory, deployment of the Iris Casia-G system will allow Drone Up to expand from its current “last mile’ deliveries in small suburbs to Walmart store outlets in larger towns and cities and over much greater distance.  Currently, the FAA has all but banned drone flights in heavily populated areas due to safety concerns, but in the case of Iris has begun loosening those restrictions and has begun to loosen those restrictions on a company-by-company basis. But the Casia–G series is relatively new, and the safety record of ground-based sensors for BVLOS flights has yet to be demonstrated.  Drone Up and Iris are still awaiting final FAA approval of their planned collaboration, which has the potential to make the remote package delivery market more scalable and therefore, more profitable.

Remote package delivery drones are relatively small and already have a limited payload capacity – 10 pounds maximum in the case of Walmart and Drone Up.  Carrying onboard sensors would interfere with the main purpose of the drone operation – delivery of  goods, not aerial surveying or visual inspection as with other commercial drones.  By contrast, Iris’s original Casia X and Casia I series were designed as onboard systems for larger commercial drones that had compatible auto-pilot systems and that might not be burdened by additional weight.  Since these drones also tend to operate in relatively remote areas with little human or road traffic, it’s been far easier for Iris and its collaborators to obtain BVLOS waivers.

Iris is also working closely with Flying Lion on its Drone as First Responder program with more than 20 police and public safety agencies, primarily in California. Police forces engaged in criminal pursuit operations often must travel long distances across various jurisdictions to track and apprehend suspects.  Flying at high speeds drones have the potential to collide with bridges, towers and power lines as well as other aircraft.  The FAA has agreed to extend one of its permanent waivers to Iris to support the Drone as First Responder program, which has greatly enhanced the pursuit operations of police departments in Chula Vista, Redondo Beach, and elsewhere.

This year Iris is moving into broader technology partnerships with companies such as VOTIX and Unmanned Vehicle Technologies (UVT) to further refine the Casia-G system and to expand its application to additional industries. VOTIX offers a platform for translating Casia-G airspace intrusion detection data into automated drone operator responses, speeding response time and ensuring even greater safety in drone delivery operations.   UVT provides site surveys, operational and technical guidance, training, installation and support to commercial clients that can refine their drone operations with access to Casia G.

“Our mission is to make BVLOS easy,” says VOTIX CEO Ed Bacas about his company’s partnership with Iris. “We have integrated every aspect of drone operation in a single pane of glass so pilots can easily perform safe and secure BVLOS flights.”

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