In recent years, the U.S. state of North Dakota has emerged as what is being dubbed the "Silicon Valley of drone innovation". Microsoft has now seemingly recognized the importance of the state's efforts towards drone innovation, with $100,000 being granted by the company to the University of North Dakota (UND) Aerospace Foundation. This amount will be used to advance a promising R&D project undertaken by the foundation to develop an autonomous unmanned aircraft system (UAS).
UND will be using the grant to partner up with drone startup Airtonomy. The feasibility of the project design will be demonstrated through the use of Microsoft Azure IoT Edge and AI. The platform will be thoroughly tested by the startup over the course of the next year, with specific regard to autonomous drone aerial imaging capabilities and commercial applications. Benefits from the success of this project could extend to the agricultural, energy, and public safety industries.
Kate Behncken, General Manager of Global Community Engagement at Microsoft, commented on the investment, noting:
"TechSpark saw the drone innovation in North Dakota’s Red River Valley that is driving exciting advances for the U.S. drone industry and wanted to be a part of it. This cutting-edge project has the potential to increase crop yields and boost the production of renewable energy through safe drone advancements created locally, leading to greater economic opportunities for North Dakotans."
This move is being funded through Microsoft's TechSpark initiative, first announced by the company in 2017. It is a national civic program that aims to generate better employment opportunities in smaller communities. Expanding upon this initiative, the Redmond giant teamed up with the National FFA Organization to launch Blue 365 last year.
According to Microsoft, TechSpark support has inspired other local investors into providing almost $570,000 more in funding for Airtonomy. The company hopes that this sort of additional investment will increase economic opportunity across North Dakota, while simultaneously propelling the U.S. drone industry to achieve new heights.