Skip to Content

A small California town is helping autonomous flying machines get off the ground


Silicon Valley startup SkyRyse is working to take humans out of the pilot’s seat.

The news: The company began testing an assisted-flying helicopter equipped with its sensing hardware in Tracy, California, last week. The copter is on track to be deployed in January 2019 to respond to local 911 calls.

The tech:  SkyRyse tricked out the helicopter with equipment similar to what you would see on a self-driving car (including radar, cameras, and more onboard computers). While humans are still at the helm for this initial test, SkyRyse is using it as a data-gathering opportunity. The information obtained by the sensors will be fed to pilots to make flying in dangerous conditions, like fog, easier. It’ll also help craft simulations to further refine its AI algorithms.

Why it matters: Creating autonomous helicopters is in many ways easier than making self-driving cars (there are a lot fewer obstacles to run into in the sky). Proving to regulators that they’re safe is the real challenge. This project will help build up the data SkyRyse needs to prove it can fly. “This is not just about building something that can fly by itself,” Dan Patt, who previously worked on autonomous flying with Sikorsky, told the New York Times. “It is about building a body of evidence that this is a safe way to fly.”