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Drone Brain Maker Airware Gets a Lift as GE Climbs on Board

Last November, when GE invested in the drone technology company Airware, Alex Tepper, managing director at GE Ventures, said his company wanted to be part of the commercial drone space and “help it grow.”

He’s made good on that promise. Last week GE became Airware’s first large enterprise customer for its brand new “operating system for commercial drones” called the Aerial Information Platform (AIP).

“We are currently developing drone solutions for our customers,” Tepper said. He said that drones could monitor thousands of miles of pipelines and railroads, survey off-shore oil rigs, and safely inspect transmission towers and power lines.

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Above and below: Drones with Airware’s FlightCore brains (in red). Image credit: Airware

Airware, based in San Francisco, is the idea of American entrepreneur Jonathan Downey. The former pilot realized that while there have been many drone makers, there were very few standardized building blocks. “For the industry to take off, you need more than just an autopilot,” he said.

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Downey’s solution was the AIP, which combines airborne and ground-based hardware and software with cloud-based management and analytics services.

The latest version of the system will allow users to manage their fleets, scale data collection and analysis, integrate the results with existing business software systems, and help meet safety, regulatory and insurance requirements, Airware says.

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Users can control their drones from a tablet. Image credit: Airware

Downey says the system’s flexibility also allows customers to easily embrace thermal sensors, multispectral cameras, LiDAR and software apps from a vast ecosystem of third-party vendors. “Commercial drones will change the way we do our jobs, improve our decision-making, and save lives,” Downey says.

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A drone flight path over a construction site. Image credit: Airware

Airware’s systems are already being used by drone manufacturers like France’s Delta Drone and Altavian, Allied Drones, and Drone America in the U.S. “We have been testing Airware’s product for a variety of applications in France, including mining surveys, precision agriculture, industrial inspection, and forestry,” said Christian F. Viguié, chairman and CEO of Delta Drone.

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GE’s Alex Tepper (right) says his company is already exploring drone applications for customers. Image credit: GE Ventures

The potential repertoire of commercial drones is huge. They could be used for everything from infrastructure inspection and land management to environmental monitoring, surveying and mapping, precision agriculture, and running public safety, search and rescue and wildlife conservation missions. Aiware’s technology already took part in an anti-poaching exercise in a northern white rhino wildlife preserve in Kenya.

Says GE’s Tepper: “Drones have the ability to reduce downtime, increase safety, and provide more reliable operations for our customers and we believe that Airware is going to be a key partner in helping us deliver these solutions.”

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GE believes commercial drones will have applications across many industries. Image credit: GE Ventures

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