Drone-based image specialist earns USAF small business contract

By Aerial Applications | March 20, 2020

Aerial Applications, a software company specializing in GPU-accelerated data processing of drone imagery to make maps, was today awarded the US Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II B Strategic Fund Increase Pilot Program.

The program brings together commitment from both the public and private sectors to help advance the U.S. National Strategic Science and Technology goals through strategic funding. The program involves a commitment from the Verizon 5G First Responder Lab for continued product development and integration over the program’s 4-year period.

The announcement was made during the Virtual Spark Collider, Pitch Bowl, and STRATFI Showcase, in lieu of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, by Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. Known as a center of rapidly growing technology and innovation, Austin has been expanding its footprint with the Department of Defense as the new home of the Army Futures Command and is one of the three Air Force AFWERX Innovation Hubs along with Washington D.C. and Las Vegas.

The program gives Aerial Applications 4 years and $6 Million of R&D funding to help advance the development of environmental monitoring bolstered by artificial intelligence to support an Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center innovation initiative. Their initial project, mapping the habitat of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler at Camp Bullis in San Antonio, Texas, will be expanded significantly to include other species and applied to 20 plus different use cases in at least 12 locations.

Using unmanned aerial vehicles, teams can rapidly create environmental maps that help achieve compliance with Department of Interior requirements. This transition from a manual inventory process to an automated one, will save an estimated $8-16 million per year for the Department of Defense.

“Aerial Applications has been a fantastic and talented partner and are well positioned to deliver this advanced drone imagery and machine learning capability for multiple installation and mission support enterprise uses. We look forward as this innovative partnership grows over the next four years,” said Marc Vandeveer, AFIMSC chief innovation officer.

The Pilot Program also emphasized the need for Dual-Use solutions - meaning technology that would be used by customers beyond the Federal Government. Aerial Applications has been working with Verizon as part of its 5G First Responder Lab to create, test and refine 5G solutions for public safety. One such solution will leverage Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband and drone technology to monitor and prevent wildfires.

“We’re thrilled that Verizon’s relationship with Aerial Applications helped accelerate their ability to win this award and continue to work in our 5G Lab in D.C. to develop six new integrated solutions for the Air Force,” said Christian Guirnalda, Director of Verizon’s 5G Labs. “The reason we created our 5G First Responder Lab program is to give innovators access to Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network to develop cutting-edge technologies that can ultimately save lives.”

The selection process has involved a 3 round down select, beginning with hundreds of highly promising technology startups. Aerial Applications was honored to win the award over hundreds of highly promising technology startups.

In this Air Force Small Business Innovation Research Phase 2 partnership, Aerial Applications expects to develop advanced artificial intelligence and mapping analysis tools. This will be widely applied to multiple different use cases across the DoD to help improve environmental protection and compliance.

This award follows a number of recent achievements and partnerships for Aerial Applications. Last year, the D.C.-based software company closed a $4.5 million equity funding round just months after being named as part of the first cohort of companies in the Verizon 5G First Responder Lab.

“We’re excited and humbled to have earned this amazing opportunity to develop, deploy and scale our technologies. From wildfires to polar bears, we’re proud to support Air Force missions in diverse environments and applications,” said Aerial Applications CEO Joe Sullivan. “Our team can’t wait to prove how drones and AI can save lives, help humanity tackle complex problems at scale, and make advanced geospatial intelligence accessible to everyone.”