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SkyGrid drone management
SkyGrid plans to develop a software platform that will facilitate the smooth integration of autonomous cargo craft and passenger air vehicles in the global airspace. (Boeing Illustration)

Four months after announcing that they were linking up to create a traffic management system for drones, Boeing and SparkCognition say they’re kicking things up a notch with a new venture called SkyGrid to address the broader challenges associated with urban air mobility.

SkyGrid aims to develop a software platform that will facilitate the smooth integration of autonomous cargo craft and passenger air vehicles in the global airspace, the two companies said today in a news release.

The platform will go beyond drone traffic management to handle a wide range of tasks involving unmanned aircraft systems, including package delivery, remote sensing, industrial inspections and emergency assistance.

SkyGrid is meant to complement the Federal Aviation Administration’s role in air traffic management, and the company plans to work with regulatory authorities worldwide to make sure its software platform meets all the regulatory standards for safe airspace operations.

“SkyGrid is building the digital infrastructure that will make safe, seamless commercial and personal transport possible for billions of people around the world,” said Steve Nordlund, vice president and general manager of Boeing NeXt.

Boeing and Texas-based SparkCognition announced in July that they would be partnering on a project having to do with next-generation airspace management, facilitated by Boeing NeXt. The collaboration built on Boeing HorizonX Ventures’ participation in a $32.5 million investment round for SparkCognition a year earlier.

When the partnership was announced at the Farnborough International Airshow in Britain, the two companies said emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain-based data security would be key to their joint efforts. Amir Husain, who will serve as the CEO of SkyGrid in addition to his role as founder and CEO of SparkCognition, underscored that angle in today’s announcement.

“SkyGrid merges expertise in AI, blockchain, security and aviation to deliver breakthrough technological advancements for the rapidly growing urban aerial mobility industry,” Husain said. “By offering scalable and robust capabilities in a single, integrated framework, SkyGrid will make large-scale air vehicle applications more practical and accessible.”

Boeing spokeswoman Megan Hilfer told GeekWire in an email that her company has been working with a number of partners on a wide array of potential use cases for SkyGrid’s software platform. However, Boeing was “not at liberty to discuss launch customers at this time,” she said.

Air mobility, which includes applications ranging from drone deliveries to air-taxi services, has drawn increasing interest from high-profile companies such as Boeing, Airbus and Uber, as well as from well-funded startups such as Opener, Wing and Kitty Hawk.

During an Industry Day event in Seattle this month, the FAA and NASA enlisted the aerospace community to help build a safe and reliable air mobility ecosystem. To assess the various technological and regulatory options, the agencies are setting up a series of Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenges for aircraft manufacturers and software developers over the next couple of years. SkyGrid could conceivably play a role in that process.

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