Grand Forks, North Dakota-based drone startup Airtonomy scored a major victory in the drone industry, especially given its position as a newcomer in the drone industry. The data-collection startup was recently crowned the $1 million grand prize winner of the GENIUS NY accelerator competition.
The year-long GENIUS NY program is a massive business competition focused on unmanned systems of all kinds, whether aerial drones ground-based robots or other platforms that support the robotics industry. It doles out prize money to startups, which in exchange promise to operate their business in Central New York for at least one year and ideally accelerate their growth and expand their presence in the region.
Airtonomy, which launched back in 2018, is a software company that uses Artificial Intelligence to enable autonomous capture, analysis, and integration of critical infrastructure data. Its product is designed to enable anyone to collect data uniformly using autonomous vehicles or drones. Push a single button, and anyone — whether wind technician, security guard or power lineman — can collect data in a uniform manner than can then automatically be processed using machine learning and turned into actionable intelligence for the business.
The company currently has 25 employees, but Airtonomy founder and CEO Dr. Joshua R. Riedy said he intends to use money to hire more employees locally in Central New York.
While it will conduct work in New York, Airtonomy also operates at Grand Forks’ Herald Building, which is a key piece of infrastructure for the growing technology sector and the new economy in the Grand Forks region. The city which is feeding off the immense data analytics, artificial intelligence, and software needs of the emerging drone industry anchored by Grand Sky, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, and the emerging Beyond Visual Line of Site (BVLOS) infrastructure. The city of Grand Forks has been an early adopter of drones, with other key infrastructure including the nation’s first unmanned airport, the Grand Sky Development Park, which has 1.2 million square feet of hangar, office and data space. Grand Fork also hosts the Northern Plains UAS Test Site to aid in testing safe integration of unmanned aircraft into airspace.
About the Genius NY competition
The initial Genius NY competition brought in nearly 600 organizations and startups spread across more than 50 companies from fields representing not just drones (although that is a huge focus) but also drone-adjacent fields including internet of things (IoT) and big data. It then whittled those 600 teams to just 13 semi-finalists before landing on five finalists and ultimately the big winner: Airtonomy.
The competition was judged by Captain Houston Mills, vice president of Flight Operations and Safety at UPS; Theresa Mazzullo, CEO of Excell Partners; Chedy Hampson, founder and CEO of TCGplayer; Kelly Wypych, consultant and retired CEO at Cryomech; and Clayton Besch, director of Empire State’s Development’s New York Ventures.
Other winners in the GENIUS NY competition included Airial Robotics of Hamburg, Germany; CarScanner of Krakow, Poland; Circle Optics of Rochester, NY; and WindShape of Geneva, Switzerland; each of which were awarded investments of $500,000 following the round five pitch event, which was held virtually this year. To date, New York State has invested $25 million in GENIUS NY over five rounds of the competition amongst all its participants.
While New York spends a significant amount of money on the event, it’s an investment that could pay off. GENIUS NY says the program has created 60 new jobs in the region.
The goal is to turn New York into a drone hub, and it’s certainly shaping up to be that way. While everyone else might be thinking of Times Square, New York is perhaps most famous in the drone industry as the site of Griffiss International Airport, which is one of just seven FAA-designated UAS test sites in the U.S. That site entails a 50-mile drone corridor which — unlike a real corridor — is a digital corridor comprised of a network of sensors and radar, allowing drone companies to test drones and UTM technology in real world settings. That data is then made available to the industry and regulators, all in the hopes of making widespread commercial drone adoption more viable. New York is also the site of the UTM Pilot Program Phase 2, and has been the site of other drone testing projects including drone parachutes.
As for the companies themselves that participated in GENIUS NY, they’ve collectively raised more than $73.5 million in follow-on funding since 2017.