Arbe Robotics uses radar to avoid drone crashes

Commercial unmanned aerial vehicles – now used largely by hobbyists – are set to be a $4.8b industry by 2021

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Arbe Robotics' drone technology helps avoid crashes (Courtesy)
Arbe Robotics' drone technology helps avoid crashes (Courtesy)

It appears that in just a couple of years, drones – unmanned flying craft – will be everywhere. They will be used by companies to deliver books and clothes, by governments to monitor borders and for military surveillance, and by farmers to keep tabs on their produce in distant fields.

But with so many drones buzzing around, the chances for these crashing into each other or into other objects rises significantly. So Tel Aviv-based Arbe Robotics has developed a solution that uses radar technology — radio frequencies — to help drones detect objects and avoid collusion.

“The drone market started only two or three years ago and it is still an emerging technology,” Kobi Marenko, the co-founder and chief executive officer of the start-up said in an interview. “Today it is mainly a hobby market” for people who use drones for taking pictures and other fun activities. “But in the next three to five years, drones will be used in almost every area in industry.”

Arbe Robotics’ product, which is a mix of hardware and software, can be connected to all kinds of existing drones. It will enable the craft to read the 360-degree space around it and will allow a visual range of up to 200 meters, Marenko said.

“Today drones are not allowed to fly in areas in which a collision could be dangerous,” he said. “Our system tells the drone to automatically avoid the obstacle,” and it can also include an alarm mode to alert the operator about an imminent danger, he said.

There are no other radar-based drone products on the market yet, Marenko said, and competitors are using sensors with vision technology, which is both costlier and has a limited 50-meter range, Marenko said.

Radian Insights Inc. forecasts that the commercial drone market will reach $4.8 billion by 2021 and Grand View Research estimates the market to grow at a rate of about 17 percent a year to 2022.

“Commercial drones are set to build highways in the sky,” Radian Insights said in a July 2015 report. “The market will only evolve past the early adopter stage after the industry finds ways to build navigation infrastructure that is safe and that works.”

“Crashes can virtually destroy what is promising to be a burgeoning industry of commercial drones,” Radian Insights said in the report.

Arbe Robotics, which will be testing its product in the next two weeks, has raised $1 million in funding to date. The company was founded in November 2015 with 10 people. It won the first prize at the TechCrunch Meetup and Pitch-Off event in Tel Aviv earlier this month, after it presented its technology to a panel of venture capitalists and TechCrunch editors.

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