screen grab of Flock risk assessment heat map
Flock risk assessment heat map – click on the image to see the video

Flock tracks in real time the position of people, vehicles and structures in cities, calculating the safest possible flight-plans for drones.

The London-based big data startup is building a platform for performing real-time quantified risk analysis of drone flights.

It’s not building a sense-and-avoid object detection system — rather it’s licensing data pertaining to the position of buildings, people and cars in urban environments, as well as weather conditions, and feeding that into its risk assessment platform. Idea being for its software to analyze a planned drone flight in real-time and perform a “cost/benefit” analysis — to help insurers set premiums or drone operators decide whether or not to undertaken a given flight.

Down the line it’s also intending to apply machine learning algorithms to the urban data it’s getting in order to generate “real-time risk reduction” for drone operators via predictive assessments for drone flight scheduling — which it reckons could be used to power fully autonomous drone flights zipping along risk-minimized routes.

“The idea is to have a robust trend analysis built into the system so we can analyze historic data on all the data sources that we collect over a given period of time, and then build up a really good understanding of how cities move generally, how cities breathe, and how populations and traffic conditions change over time,” says Ed Leon Klinger, CEO.

“Therefore we can calculate the best route to take and the exact time to go, which is most efficient — both for internal logistics purposes and for external risk assessment purposes. So we’ll be using machine learning to formulate the predictions that we need that allows drones to intelligently navigate through cities and also be intelligently scheduled.”

The startup was founded in March last year and has been funding development by bootstrapping and multiple R&D grants from Innovate UK thus far. They’re in the process of raising a seed round.

On the competition front, there’s AirMap in the market already, which raised a $16 million Series A round back in April — and which provides drone operators with airspace information to help them figure out when and where to fly. But Klinger argues Flock’s focus on real-time analytics of urban data is different vs AirMap mapping “static regulation”, as he puts it. Targeting insurers and risk assessment also makes for a bit of a different spin here.

“In four or five years time we want to be embedded in every single autonomous drone globally. We want to be the company that’s providing contextual data in cities and urban environments generally, and keeping drones safe.”

Meet Flock, a start-up out of the UK with some very ambitious plans. I really like this idea. It’s easy to imagine something like this as a part of UTM – not just deconflicting flights but optimizing use of the airspace while saving operators electrons and extending battery life.
This is something that AirMap, which currently seems to do little more than put a GUI on existing free maps and the related databases, doesn’t do – at least not at the moment.
As noted in the articles, they are testing first in the UK.

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