It’s a big deal when a startup finds a partner with global reach, but AVSS of New Brunswick has just found a partner whose operations extend to the far reaches of the galaxy.
Rothesay-based AVSS announced this week that it is working with the National Aeronautic and Space Administration, or NASA, and others on a pioneering project to ensure drone safety in urban environments.
The two-year-old company is one of the partners in the NASA-NIAS Urban Flight Project, which for the next few months will conduct tests with unmanned aircraft in downtown Reno, Nevada, to ensure drones can be used safely in cities. Drones are a young technology with the potential to operate in highly populated areas, and the NASA program is designed to make sure they can do so safely.
“The drone industry is constantly evolving – it’s changing month to month,” Mariah Murray, AVSS’s new Vice-President of Operations, said in an interview. “What we’re looking at is: How do we make flying drones coming to your front door as safe as it can be?”
Founded by Josh Ogden of Rothesay, and Josh Boudreau of Ottawa, AVSS is developing hardware and software to improve the safety of autonomous aircraft. The company has developed the Connected Recovery System, which is like a black box for drones connected to a parachute, which can deploy if the system senses trouble. It also offers a Command Centre Platform.
The company now has 15 staff members divided between New Brunswick and Ottawa. Murray, who previously worked with Ogden on the Fredericton company Castaway Golf, joined about a year ago and is now responsible for making sure the company executes smoothly on its various projects.
She was mum on the company’s fund-raising plans. What’s known publicly is that AVSS received $100,000 in funding from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation in its 2017-2018 fiscal year, and has some angel backers.
AVSS has grown strongly in two years, with partners around the world. Last year, it said it was working with Canada Post on a project to ensure the safety of drones used in parcel delivery. The company attended an accelerator for drone technology providers in Poland, and has since set up an office in the country. And now it is part of the NASA-NIAS project.
Earlier this month, NASA said it had chosen Nevada in a seven-state competition as the site to conduct urban-area tests in drone safety.
“This involves Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) flying in higher-density urban areas for tasks such as newsgathering, package delivery, and large-scale contingency mitigation,” said the NASA statement. “For the first time in U.S. aviation history in a metropolitan area under beyond visual line of sight conditions, Nevada will conduct this NASA demonstration over several months in downtown Reno.”
AVSS is one of several smaller partners whose technology is being used in the tests. The Canadian company applied to join the project about six months ago, and had a leg up given its previous work with Canada Post and Transport Canada.
Murray believes drone deliveries in large cities will be a reality by 2022, and that they will take place in Atlantic Canada within three years after that. AVSS is now working with NASA, a national organization that will be key to making it happen.
Said Murray: “This is a nationally known company and they’re adopting the drone . . . and it reflects what the future holds.”