Boeing Bets on Autonomous Flight with Back-to-Back Deals for Drone-Makers


The world's largest aerospace company has acquired a drone startup in hopes of finding new applications for autonomous flight, from mapping terrain to resupplying troops on the battlefield.

Boeing Co., based in Chicago, on Thursday announced the investment in Near Earth Autonomy, a Pittsburgh-based drone startup that works to bridge the gap between aerospace and robotics, as part of a plan to sell new products to emerging markets.

"We are excited to begin this partnership with a company with such a depth of experience in autonomy so we can leverage the scale of Boeing to innovate for our customers," Steve Nordlund, Boeing HorizonX vice president, said in a statement.

Boeing HorizonX invests in new business ventures that present next-generation technologies.

"This is an exciting opportunity for Near Earth," Sanjiv Singh, chief executive officer of Near Earth Autonomy, said in the release. "The Boeing HorizonX investment will accelerate the development of robust products and enable access to a broader portfolio of applications for aerial autonomy."

Near Earth is a spin-off of Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute that specializes in sensor technology to inspect, map and survey land and urban settings, as well as autonomously transport cargo. Over the past decade, the firm has led ground and aerial autonomous projects with the Pentagon.

Most notably, the startup completed the world's first full-size autonomous helicopter flights in partnership with the U.S. Army in 2010 and continues to work with the Office of Naval Research developing an autonomous aerial cargo delivery platform for the U.S. Marines, according to the release.

Boeing's latest news comes two weeks after it announced it is acquiring Aurora Flight Services, which also specializes in autonomous system technologies and robotic aircraft.

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