Alexander Harmsen has been interested in aviation since he was a teenager. "I got my pilot's license before I even got my driver's license," says Harmsen, who was 17 when he started flight training. Now, along with his college friend James Howard, he wants to help drones pilot themselves, without humans having to dictate every move. Their company, Iris Automation, uses the same technology that's propelling driverless cars--and they think it'll be revolutionary for a variety of industries.
One current use-case is inspecting railway lines for targeted maintenance. Harmsen says that the company has roughly two dozen clients in five countries. Due to strict regulations, "every single drone that's flown right now has to have a pilot and a visual observer with their hands on some sort of remote control," which limits the drone's flight to about a mile. That changes when you have a full-fledged "sense and avoid" system like the one Iris Automation is building. --Sonya Mann