Skip to Content
Smart cities

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

August 28, 2018

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.”

Deep Dive

Smart cities

AV2.0 autonomous vehicles adapt to unknown road conditions concept
AV2.0 autonomous vehicles adapt to unknown road conditions concept

The big new idea for making self-driving cars that can go anywhere

The mainstream approach to driverless cars is slow and difficult. These startups think going all-in on AI will get there faster.

Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project
Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project

Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever

The city wants to get right what Sidewalk Labs got so wrong.

sensory inputs
sensory inputs

Why sounds and smells are as vital to cities as the sights

The growing field of sensory urbanism is changing the way we assess neighborhoods and projects.

Marseilles surveillance cameras
Marseilles surveillance cameras

Marseille’s battle against the surveillance state

The boisterous, rebellious port city is trying to fight the growing ubiquity of policing cameras.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.