Scottsdale leaders last week celebrated the opening of internationally renowned industrial drone company manufacturer Airobotics’ North American headquarters here – which may ultimately become its global base of operations.
The 4-year-old Israeli firm “is going to find a great home here,” Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane said at a ribbon cutting for the company’s new offices on Raintree Drive. “There are a lot of companies with similar innovations and technologies and advancements to move forward on all fronts across the world here."
The company provides drones for use in the mining industry and was drawn to Arizona, in part, because of the presence of many mining companies in the state.
“Four years ago, this company was just an idea,” Airobotics co-founder and CEO Ran Krauss said.
Airobotics will bring in 83 jobs to its U.S. headquarters over the next three years, according to Arizona Commerce Authority projections.
“As the world’s largest mining companies, many of which operate here in Arizona, continue to invest immense resources in finding solutions to increase safety, unmanned aircraft systems are becoming an integral tool in this transformation,” said authority President/CEO Sandra Watson. “Airobotics technology will eliminate human-led manual inspections in the most hazardous and hard-to-access areas.”
Outlining his vision for his company, Krauss cited David Ben-Gurion, the founding father of Israel, telling the crowd, “In Israel to be a realist you have to believe in miracles.”
He said he hopes automated drones become more commonplace in several industries around the Valley.
“The vision for this company is much greater than mining or heavy industries, although that’s our first stop and we intend to make the most out of it. But, flights in cities, first response and other applications in highly-populated areas are the next stop,” Krauss said.
In a profile of the firm, venturebeat.com said Krauss figured drones would never reach their full potential as long as human operators were needed.
“The company has developed a pilotless drone that self-deploys, using robotics to handle chores like changing the battery and various components,” venturebeat reported. “No human intervention is needed.”
It said Airobotics’ popularity is soaring so quickly that the company’s biggest challenge is making them fast enough to fulfill demand.
“The idea for us when we started Airobotics was to pull the pilot out of the loop,” Krauss said. “It’s the most expensive part of the operations. That’s clear when you’re talking about autonomous cars. But it’s not as obvious when you’re talking about the pilot of a drone.”
Airobotics, which has 250 global employees now, said its Scottsdale operation for now will complement the company’s offices in Australia, and some operations in Chile and New Caledonia.
But the company also said that eventually the Arizona site will become its global headquarters, according to venturebeat.
“Airobotics’ biggest market today is the mining industry, which uses its drones for surveillance and data gathering. BHP, one of the world’s largest mining companies, has extensive operations in Arizona and will become Airobotics’ first customer in the U.S,” the website reported.
It also quoted company officials as saying “Arizona regulators are willing to work with them on developing rules to enable drones to fly beyond the operator’s line of sight, a thorny issue around the world that still limits the deployment and use cases of drones.”
That approach to partnering with regulators has been a cornerstone of Airobotics’ strategy from the start, Krauss told the website.
“Regulation has always been one of the drivers and challenges for this technology,” he said. “When we started Airobotics, we went to regulators in Israel to see what was possible. We work side-by-side with them. Before we develop anything new, we see what they think and how we can make it work.”
The result of this approach is a drone that can land on platforms where robotic arms change batteries, unload cargo or modify the drone for tasks such as transport or security, venturebeat said, adding:
“The software allows companies to pre-program routes and tasks, as well as schedule deployment and landing. Once the drone lands on the platform, it descends into the container, where it remains protected until the next mission.”