Iris Automation this month made a major move in the international business community. Iris, which works on scaling beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) commercial drone operations with a focus on drone delivery, was recently invited to join the World Economic Forum Global Innovators community.
Iris joins drone delivery company Zipline as the drone industry representatives in the invitation-only group, which consists of dozens of “start-ups and scale-ups that are at the forefront of ethical technological and business model innovation.”
The World Economic Forum has been making gradual moves into the drone industry, particularly when it comes to supporting globally-focused start-ups. It’s partnered with the City of Los Angeles to define air traffic standards, and it’s partnered with the World Bank and the Government of Rwanda to host the 2020 African Drone Forum.
With the World Economic Forum Global Innovators community specifically, public- and private-sector leaders are expected to come together to contribute new solutions to overcome the current economic crisis brought about by coronavirus.
“Amid major global disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a critical moment for innovative companies to bring forward new ideas to help protect lives and livelihoods of communities and industries around the world,” said Timothy Reuter, Head of Aerospace and Drones at the World Economic Forum. “The integration of unmanned air systems can positively impact vaccine logistics supply chains and other public health needs, but only if performed safely.”
Coronavirus in many ways was a good thing for the drone delivery industry, as drones proved their worth in delivering everything from at-home COVID tests to medicines for people who couldn’t leave their homes. Of course, they also delighted bored, homebound people with less-essential coffee deliveries too.
Iris Automation is based in San Francisco, Calif. and is working on computer vision technology to develop advanced detection systems. Those will inevitably be useful in providing detect-and-avoid capabilities in drones — essential for scaling widespread drone delivery, particularly flights beyond the operator’s line of sight.
The other drone company participating in the World Economic Forum’s Global Innovators group is Zipline, which had long been working on drone deliveries in developing countries. But in the wake of coronavirus, the Silicon Valley-based company turned its attention to the U.S. via a partnership with North Carolina-based non-profit healthcare system Novant Health. Zipline’s drones shuttled personal protective equipment and critical medical supplies to Novant Health frontline medical teams in the Charlotte, North Carolina, metro area in a method that allowed for contactless distribution.
As a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Innovators group, companies will participate in discussions “to help define the global agenda on key issues.” Naturally, Iris Automation will join the Shaping the Future of Mobility platform. As part of the Shaping the Future of Mobility platform, Iris Automation is expected to support and partner with Drone Innovators Network in its projects to advance progressive air safety policy frameworks.
Both companies representing the drone industry for the World Economic Forum Global Innovators group are also American drone companies. While other tech startups in the group come from dozens of other countries, it’s interesting that the two were chosen at a time of anti-Chinese drone sentiment. The World Economic Forum itself is a not-for-profit headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.