Microsoft Invests In Real-Time Airspace Mapping Startup

By Victor Thomson , Feb 24, 2017 02:00 AM EST

Microsoft Ventures is leading a $26 million round of funding in AirMap. The startup is specialized in developing real-time airspace mapping for drones.

Microsoft's Investment In AirMap

According to The Verge, there is a simple logic in Microsoft's move, for a software company that makes the majority of its money selling to large enterprise companies. Big firms in security, construction, energy and agriculture will soon be looking for reliable data to power their fleets of autonomous drones. Many of these companies are already Microsoft's clients and rely on the tech giant for software and services.

Microsoft already has shown its interest in drones. The company recently released a drone simulator that helps train drone pilots before flying in the real world. Microsoft may eventually get all the way into the drone niche the same way other tech giants such as Intel and Qualcomm already have. However, for now, the Redmond-based company is just securing some potential through its venture capital division.

Real-Time Drone Mapping And Alert Platform

According to Recode, before, most Amazon orders are delivered by a drone.  It posed one of the biggest problems that still need to be figured - managing air traffic control for drones. Drones will need to coordinate and communicate with aircraft and humans on the ground.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and NASA are working on a multiyear research project on safety. The project aims to integrate drone air traffic control into the national airspace. However, it is not expected that the research will be finished before 2019.

Meanwhile, AirMap is a startup that focuses on developing a real-time drone mapping and alert platform, in order to help with the air traffic control. The company has already launched a system that alerts drone operators and air traffic controllers where unmanned aircraft are flying. The system also helps drone pilots to report flight plans.

Nearly every major airport across the country is already using AirMap's system. In a move that comes to leverage its success, AirMap announced on Thursday, Feb. 23, that it raised $26 million from Microsoft, Sony, Qualcomm, Airbus, and Yuneec. The funding round has been led by Microsoft.

It is estimated that eighty percent of the world's drones are using AirMap's services for preventing drones from entering airports or other protected airspaces. Drones flying out of the line of sight from the operator need to ensure that they won't collide with buildings or hit other drones. They'll also need to know which areas to avoid.

In order to meet these requirements, drones need to share and receive real-time information with operators and local authorities on the ground, as well as with other drones. Even if the drones of today are mostly piloted, it is expected that, increasingly, drones will become more and more autonomous and flying themselves.

In the U.S., drones won't be allowed to fly without an operator until the FAA creates new safety rules. However, major investors are not dissuaded by that timeline. Industry solutions such as AirMap's system are coming to support air traffic control services for low-altitude airspace.

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