Zehra Akbar is the Senior Director of Strategy and Operations for Boeing Venture SkyGrid, provider of airspace management services for commercial drone operators, enterprises, and aviation authorities. SkyGrid FlightControl™ is an all-in-one drone app, designed to automate every part of the flight process. Akbar explains how AI, Blockchain, and a hundred years of aviation experience come together for SkyGrid customers.
SkyGrid: Integrating UAVs into the Global Airspace
SkyGrid provides airspace management solutions for drone operators, enterprises, and aviation authorities. “Our story began in 2018 when advancements in drones, air taxis, and other unmanned aircraft were underway, but the industry lacked a comprehensive system to safely integrate millions of UAVs in controlled airspace,” says Akbar.”
Boeing and SparkCognition joined forces to fill the gap with a new joint venture, SkyGrid. “By combining Boeing’s aviation expertise with SparkCognition’s advancements in artificial intelligence, we’re solving the industry’s biggest challenges integrating UAVs in the global airspace and executing autonomous operations at scale,” Akbar explains.
“Our airspace management system, AerialOS™, uses AI and blockchain to intelligently route, synchronize, and maintain unmanned aircraft in shared airspace. The platform monitors, predicts, and adapts to changes in airspace, vehicle, and location data to safely enable advanced air mobility and a wide variety of commercial drone operations.”
SkyGrid serves both individual pilots and enterprise customers. The platform powers the SkyGrid Flight Control application. SkyGrid Flight Control “allows us to extend some of our airspace awareness and flight operations capabilities to drone operators for free. The app enables drone operators to check airspace conditions, get LAANC, automate missions, and detect objects during flight with AI computer vision,” says Akbar.
“For our enterprise customers, we also offer more advanced features to better manage all drones, pilots, and airspace operations. These features include AI-based mission planning and rerouting, multi-drone missions, custom object detection and counting, geofencing and alerts, and more.”
Improving on the Process
Akbar explains that SkyGrid Flight Control was designed as an all-in-one solution “to radically simplify drone operations.” Drone operators generally have to use several different tools to check airspace, get authorization, plan and execute flights, and gather insights. “It’s a cumbersome process that requires too many manual workflows and leads to disconnected information as operators switch between different applications,” she says. “We’re minimizing the burden on drone operators with one solution that automates airspace, flights, and insights.”
Implementing Blockchain and AI in the solution
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain are hot technology concepts. Developments in these technologies have allowed major advances in automation of drone flights, allowing better decision making and greater security. SkyGrid’s platform leverages AI and blockchain to make the entire flight process easier – and safer. “Our system is built on SparkCognition’s advanced AI technology to help maintain the safety and security of our airspace,” Akbar says. “For example, AI can be used to optimize flight planning and execution. Our AI algorithms can analyze crucial data, such as airspace traffic, weather forecasts, roadway traffic, and vehicle performance, to automatically generate optimal flight plans and autonomously adapt flights as conditions change. For extra safeguard measures, operators have the ability to approve the new flight plan before execution.”
“This approach can help solve the scalability issues enterprises are up against today. It removes the burden on drone operators to manually monitor weather changes, avoid buildings and infrastructure, navigate around roadway traffic, and comply with shifting regulatory dynamics. AI technology can more reliably analyze complex data layers to uncover hidden trends and adapt flights in the rapidly changing airspace.”
We also built a private blockchain system to protect the integrity of any information, such as pilot, flight, and drone data, stored within our application. This approach enables a secure, tamper-proof record of all unmanned flights for both drone operators and aviation authorities.”
For the Enterprise – and First Responders
Equipped with AI computer vision, SkyGrid Flight Control enables drone operators to autonomously examine a defined area and detect key objects, such as people, vehicles, and animals, in real-time. “This technology can be a powerful tool to quickly assess damage following a natural disaster, identify potential threats near critical infrastructure, or track assets and personnel at a construction site,” Akbar says, explaining how a search and rescue mission would work.
“For example, our solution can help first responders significantly reduce the amount of time required to locate and provide care for lost or missing persons. SkyGrid Flight Control will automatically generate a sweep mission to surveil a defined area based on the flight parameters, such as the desired altitude, speed, and distance between sweeps.
Once the mission is launched, our solution will autonomously perform the predefined flight plan and allow first responders to monitor the flight in the live video feed. As the drone surveils the defined area, our AI computer vision will help detect the lost or missing person in real-time, enabling first responders to quickly identify the coordinates and evaluate conditions for ground accessibility.”
This is life saving technology – which also offers commercial interests a level of oversight that leads to better resource management, security, and decision making. “Our AI object detection capabilities are available for free within SkyGrid Flight Control,” Akbar says. “For enterprise customers, we can also train our algorithms to detect and track customized objects based on the needs of the mission.”
“We believe SkyGrid Flight Control is an important step towards more complex commercial drone operations and advanced air mobility in urban, regional, and global markets,” says Akbar. “We’re excited about the new features and functionality that our team is already getting ready to roll out in upcoming versions of the app. We’ll have more information to share soon.”
As Senior Director of Strategy & Operations, Zehra leads business development, strategic product direction, and day to day operations at SkyGrid. With 10 years of experience, Zehra specializes in digital transformation, organizational redesign, and strategy development. Prior to SkyGrid, Zehra led the expansion to new markets at SparkCognition, an AI company. Zehra also has in-depth experience helping organizations recognize, assess, and introduce emerging technologies through her time at Deloitte, Accenture, and USAID. Zehra has a Master’s in Global Policy Studies and a Bachelor’s in Economics from the University of Texas at Austin.