At this year’s Interdrone Expo in Las Vegas, the US start-up Impossible Aerospace was the most interesting newcomer for me in regards to new drone manufacturers. Apart from that, there was another very exciting new presentation: Auterion is a Swiss start-up from Zurich that wants to establish an ecosystem based on open source software consisting of drone hardware with the very latest technology and suitable, certified software for flying, mission planning and fleet management. An ambitious plan, but the team has not only raised $10 million in investment, but is also working with an impressive list of industry partners including Sony, Intel, Telecom, Airmap, PrecisionHawk and others.
Open Source to Address Security Concerns
What makes this exciting? In recent months there have been more and more critical voices about the market leadership of Chinese drone manufacturers, especially DJI. Particularly in the USA, people are worried about whether the use of Chinese hardware and software, including the invisble transfer of data to the respective servers, is contrary to national security interests – especially in inspection projects involving sensitive infrastructure conducted by state authorities. In May 2018, the Department of Defense (DoD) even banned all its departments from buying commercial drones for free sale.
The restriction comes at a time when public authorities, including firefighters and police, in almost all western countries are testing the use of drones for search and rescue operations as well as for the inspection of state and semi-state infrastructure and many other use cases. They are all faced with the challenge of finding trustworthy hardware and software solutions without suddenly having to invest in expensive in-house developments or niche products.
One obvious advantage is that a platform based on open source software can be checked for built-in backdoors and can dispel concerns about cyber security. Auterion offers an enterprise operating system that is based on the open-source PX4 autopilot to enable safe, cyber-secure, and compliant operations. Auterion’s operating system enables manufacturers to build their products on global and safe standards using common, trusted infrastructure. If Auterion succeeds in bringing the various drone and camera manufacturers together and certifying the end product, it can close precisely this gap that is currently emerging and provide an alternative to the proprietary Chinese drone range.
A Modular Plattform to Attack the DJI Matrice
Auterion together with the various industrial partners have jointly launched a drone that meets the highest standards of technology and safety. The first product from this cooperation can already be purchased: At Interdrone, Auterion presented the IF750A, a modularly adaptable multicopter with RTK, high-resolution Sony camera and Obstacle Avoidance with Intel RealSense technology for commercial use.