Irish co-funded start-up Sees.AI has received permission from the Civil Aviation Authority in Britain to trial drones using only cameras and sensors in a move that makes rollout of the technology at scale for logistics more likely.
The West-Sussex-based company, which is led by Irishman John McKenna, this week received authorisation to begin operating drones beyond the pilot’s line of sight under 150ft at three locations without the need for pre-authorisation of each flight.
Until now, drones have been unable to fly drones beyond the line of sight, something which has restricted greater rollout of the technology for logistics.
“This permission fires the starting gun for the next phase of growth of the drone industry,” said Sees.Ai in a statement.
Mr McKenna, the company’s chief executive, said that by testing the concept in industrial environments such as construction sites and oil fields for inspection, monitoring and maintenance purposes, Sees.Ai intends to prove the safety of its systems in these settings before extending it to address increasingly challenging missions over time. This could eventually include permitting pilot-less drones that could carry passengers.
Sees.AI is primarily focused on helping to address challenges such as inspecting infrastructure such as electricity networks and railway lines or assisting the emergency services.
“I don’t think we’ll be seeing widespread use of drones until we’ve seen them in areas such as de-risking work in the industrial domain, supporting the emergency services. When that becomes the norm and people feel reassured about their use, then things will progress more into the consumer space,” said Mr McKenna.
Mr McKenna said while the company is largely focused on Britain he hoped it would also be able to introduce services in the Republic.Sees.AI is already in discussions with at least one big organisation locally about how it might uses its services.
Mr McKenna said the work Sees.AI is engaged in is complementary to that being done by Manna, the Irish drone delivery company which is running a delivery trial service in Oranmore, Co Galway in partnership with the likes of Tesco and Samsung.
"Use cases that are especially applicable in Ireland include inspection of the electricity network as some of it is in very rural, hard to access locations. Currently people go out in helicopters to do them but that is obviously expensive, dangerous and highly polluting. This work could be done by drones," he said.
Sees.AI is one of only ten entities organisations in the Civil Aviation Authority regulatory sandbox programme alongside companies such as Amazon and Boeing - and one of only four selected into the British government's Drone Pathfinder programme. Its partners include Network Rail, Vodafone, the Met Office and BAE Systems.
The start-up has received some funding through its participation on the Techstars accelerator programme and from angel investors. Mr McKenna said the CAA’s authorisation this week helps to significantly de-risk what the company is doing, thereby making it much more attractive to outside investors. Sees.Ai intends to raise significant funds later this year.