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Investors back flight automation startup

California company Skyryse has raised $250M for tablet-guided flight

A California startup called Skyryse has won over investors and reporters with a retrofit that allows anyone (literally) to hover a helicopter like an expert, and direct every other phase of flight with finger swipes as well.

Skyryse has automated a Robinson R44 to the point where a person with no pilot training can learn in a few minutes to guide the aircraft using a tablet and joystick. (Photo courtesy of PRNewsfoto/SkyRyse.)

Skyryse was founded by CEO Mark Groden in 2017 to automate aircraft, and the startup had landed its first $25 million in venture capital funding by the time it began flying Robinson R44 helicopters with its FlightOS automation system that allowed a New York Times reporter to pilot the aircraft with a tablet and a joystick for a story published in October, when the company announced another $200 million investment by various venture capital firms that brought its total to $250 million.

In addition to accumulating capital, Skyryse has also signed on a couple of well-known advisors: Former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and former NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart, the company announced October 27.

The company's stated goal has evolved somewhat in recognition of the fact that the FAA and other national regulators will need a lot of convincing before computers are trusted to handle every aspect of a pilot's job, including communication, navigation, and management of emergencies. While normal operations are relatively easy to program, and artificial situational awareness can be achieved, at least to a near-human degree, with a combination of sensors that typically includes radar and cameras, it will probably take a few years of human aeronautical decision making supervision for computers to gain the trust of regulators, and package delivery is almost certain to be the first "job" for this new generation of autopilots.

That said, FlightOS appears to be on a promising path toward enhancing safety and reducing pilot workload. The company aircraft have been making regular flights, including at least one with a reporter aboard: New York Times technology writer Cade Metz wrote in October that he flew the R44 with a tablet and a joystick, though his 30-minute flight also illustrated why FlightOS remains a long way from replacing well-trained humans.

"Though I could turn and twist and climb, I could not handle the radio communication with air traffic controllers during takeoff and landing, and I needed help setting a course across the valley," Metz wrote. "Learning those tasks may ultimately be more intimidating and more difficult than flying the aircraft."

Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Editor-Web Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Avionics

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