In the United States, where the use of drones is banned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), most Americans view drones as tools of war or espionage. Jonathan Downey, CEO of Airware, has other ideas about the technology. Airware designs and manufactures software and hardware for drones, including the user interface for pilots and the hardware that goes into the planes to receive instructions or collect data. Downey says in the near future, drones will be in wide use in fields such as agriculture, search and rescue, conservation and infrastructure inspection, to name a few.
The company is already working with a conservancy in Kenya to keep track of an endangered rhinoceros population to combat the serious poaching problem in the country. Drones are employed in French mountains for search and rescue operations. Japanese farmers use drones to collect a range of data about their fields, including pesticide and nitrogen levels, soil saturation and monitoring yields. Currently the price of a drone ranges from about $15,000 to $50,000, but Downey expects that price to drop significantly by the time the FAA has laid out regulations for them in 2015. While he is not ready to claim that drones will be flying deliveries door to door, he says he does see a future for drones in the shipping industry.
Airware was founded in 2010 by a team of innovators and engineers with experience developing unmanned aerial vehicle technology. Downey studied engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is a licensed pilot. His father was also a commercial pilot and helped influence his work. The company specializes in creating customizable unmanned aerial systems for manufacturers to differentiate themselves in the industry.
This spring Airware was able to raise almost $11 million in funding from venture capitalists, including Google Ventures. Downey compares what his company does to what early operating systems DOS or Windows did for personal computers, namely standardizing the drone industry and making them more accessible to various applications.