Five U.S. drone companies have been awarded over $13 million under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), money appropriated to save jobs and support the economy during the current COVID-19 crisis.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) announced $13.4 million in Title III investments “As part of the national response to COVID-19, and to support the domestic small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) industrial base…” says the DoD. “Using funds authorized and appropriated under the CARES Act, these DPA Title III investments will further enhance the U.S. warfighter’s situational awareness, improve human-machine teaming, and provide engineering support for aiding the integration of sUAS capabilities into DoD programs.”
The Defense Production Act (DPA) funding is designed to protect critical domestic production, and has been used previously to support a variety of industries: including domestic shipbuilding, aviation defense, and even the production of fabric for army uniforms.
The awards were provided under Defense Innovation Unit’s (DIU’s) Commercial Solutions Opening. “DIU is leading the Department’s UAS framework development intended to provide secure, trusted sUAS capability to the Department of Defense and other Federal Government stakeholders,” says the DoD.
The announcement that DoD invests in drone companies is the latest indication that the U.S. government is moving to financially support U.S.-based alternatives to drones produced overseas, including those from leading drone manufacturer DJI. While none have yet progressed to law, several proposals designed to limit the use of government funds to purchase drones from “listed countries” – including China -have been come before Congress.
“The DPA Title III funds across five companies saved 14 jobs, created 20 new positions, and will support continued advancement of capabilities providing the companies additional paths for recurring revenue,” says the DoD announcement.
The awards were made to U.S.-based companies AirMap, ModalAI, Skydio, Graffiti Enterprises, and Obsidian Sensors. The five companies represent a variety in the drone industry: unmanned traffic management (UTM), hardware, software, and sensors.
Here are the details of the award, according to the DoD announcement:
AirMap, located in Santa Monica, California, received $3.3M to aid product development and engineering support for integration of sUAS mission planning, post-mission analysis, and unmanned traffic management software.
ModalAI, located in San Diego, California, received $3M to develop their next generation U.S.-made flight controller that will enable advanced autonomy including GPS-denied navigation, and all-environment obstacle avoidance.
Skydio, located in Redwood City, California, received $4M to improve the flight controller hardware/software and data link for their sUAS so that highly capable components can be purchased and used across U.S. Government unmanned systems.
Graffiti Enterprises, located in Somerset, New Jersey, received $1.5M to modify their commercial data link for DoD’s sUAS use including operation in restricted frequency bands, reduction in the size, weight, and power of the hardware, and software developments to improve security and resiliency of their data link.
Obsidian Sensors, located in San Diego, California, received $1.6M to build a low-cost, dual thermal sUAS camera that can be mounted onto a stabilization gimbal and then integrated and flown on small, packable, ISR systems.