Startups

Near Earth Autonomy landed a $10M equity investment for its autonomous aircraft tech

The CMU spinout was already a partner of its Connecticut-based investor, Kaman Corporation, an aerospace and defense manufacturer.

This drone uses Near Earth Autonomy's systems to fly.

(Photo via twitter.com/NEAutonomy)

Near Earth Autonomy, a Homewood-based autonomous technology company focused on aircraft, just landed a $10 million equity investment from Kaman Corporation.

The deal aims to propel Near Earth’s technical development and makes the Connecticut-based Kaman, an aerospace and defense-focused company, the “preferred manufacturer” for Near Earth’s parts, per a company announcement. A rep from Kaman is also taking a seat on Near Earth’s board of directors.

The two companies were already partners: They’ve been together since 2019 on Kaman’s unmanned military helicopter, the K-MAX TITAN, as well as its KARGO UAV, an unmanned aerial system.

“Taking our relationship with Near Earth to the next level will help us accelerate this important technology even faster,” Kaman Chairman, President and CEO Ian Walsh said in a statement. “In an ever-changing and growing autonomy market, we are confident that our joint expertise will result in highly capable, reliable, affordable and maintainable solutions for both military and commercial applications.”

Near Earth was founded as a spinout from Carnegie Mellon University at the end of 2012 and counted around 90 employees as of November, when the Pittsburgh company launched a partnership with defense tech contractor L3Harris Technologies to deploy autonomous drone systems for medical response in battle.

In a city known for its success with self-driving road vehicles, CEO Sanjiv Singh told Technical.ly in the fall that Near Earth’s developmental challenges are “exactly the opposite” of those of most of the AV industry.

All autonomous vehicle developers look to address two main cases, Singh said: normal scenarios, and scenarios where something goes wrong. In the case of road vehicles, developing the autonomous platform to respond to a problem is easier, because it can direct the car to stop or pull over. The normal scenario, in which a car would need to identify whether something is a bike or a pedestrian or a tree, is much harder to develop.

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But for aircraft, because air travel is already extremely controlled, the general and normal scenarios an autonomous aircraft may come across are relatively simple to account for. The cases in which something goes wrong, however, present a huge challenge. Aircrafts, unlike cars, cannot simply pull over or land in the event of an error or system breakdown.

In sharing the news of its new investment, the CEO named Kaman as a sound partner in advancing such work.

“Kaman has a well-deserved reputation for its robust aircraft specializing in logistics and is a fantastic partner for the development of autonomous cargo transport,” Singh said. “We are excited at the opportunity to mature the technology for the commonplace use of autonomous aircraft for logistics across the industry.”

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