Boeing's Newest Investment in the Drone Ecosystem: Near Earth Autonomy

The move comes as aircraft manufacturers begin to follow the path of auto makers, buying up and investing heavily in autonomous technology startups.

"This partnership will accelerate technology solutions that we feel will be key to unlocking emerging markets of autonomous flight", said Steve Nordlund, Boeing HorizonX vice president.

Alongside the cash investment, Boeing and Near Earth Autonomy will form a partnership to "explore future products and applications for emerging markets such as urban mobility", the airliner manufacturer said in a press release on October 19.

Now, the aviation company's HorizonX Ventures division has announced its investment in Near Earth Autonomy - a company that focuses on technologies that enable reliable autonomous flight - further solidifying its support for these burgeoning technologies.

Pittsburgh-based Near Earth Autonomy is the first autonomy-related investment by Boeing HorizonX Ventures since the latter's launch in April.

Boeing announced the new collaboration two weeks after agreeing to acquire Aurora Flight Sciences, a company with a portfolio of innovations in aerodynamics, aircraft structures and autonomy.

Though there are no official figures, the estimates who can be relied upon, indicate that Near Earth Autonomy could be valued between $40 and $50 million and it has authorized the sale of $10million worth equity.

Near Earth Autonomy, a spinoff from Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, is developing software and sensor technologies that enable autonomous navigation for aircraft ranging in size from octocopter drones to full-size helicopters.

Explaining the background to the significance of developing drones, Sanjiv Singh the CEO of Near Earth Autonomy told Bloomberg that even as the demand for air travel is increasing the number of pilots is decreasing.

Near Earth's founders have over three decades of experience developing autonomous systems for ground and aerial vehicles. The Boeing HorizonX Ventures portfolio includes investments in wearable enabled technologies, augmented reality systems, hybrid-electric propulsion, and artificial intelligence. The service's research arm is working with Near Earth on developing an autonomous cargo delivery aircraft for the US Marines Corps. In addition, he specializes in the coordination of teams of (human and robotic) agents performing complex tasks.

The start-up's work in the field dates back several years to its roots within Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute.

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