A letter from Iris Automation CEO, Jon Damush
There is little argument that small, uncrewed aircraft (drones) have tremendous potential for public benefit through low cost, low risk, high frequency, and environmentally friendly airborne operations. Getting to that point however, requires that we decouple the human from the system—this is what Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) is all about. Yes, in some cases it is about an uncrewed aircraft (UA) flying a long distance with no human aboard, but in many (if not most) other cases it is simply about an UA being able to execute its mission without a human nearby—in or on the loop.
Our recent waiver for “true” BVLOS without visual observers is a defining moment for Iris and also our industry. It is literally the result of years of hard work by our team and our partners at the City of Reno, and we’re extremely grateful for their vision and leadership to help achieve this important milestone.
This approval represents a critical step towards the opening up of larger scale uncrewed aircraft operations: operations that have direct public benefit like river rescue, but also for operations that have more of an indirect public benefit, like monitoring critical infrastructure with greater frequency—thereby reducing the risk of leaks, outages, fires, etc. The FAA has taken significant steps over the past twelve to eighteen months to lay the groundwork for commercial and public safety groups to begin adopting BVLOS flight operations. The approvals granted to American Robotics—which allowed for flights without a human pilot onsite—and BNSF—which permits BVLOS activities nationwide—were also critical steps towards realizing the long-awaited economic potential of drones.
Our recent waiver permits us to use Casia X’s 360 degree field of view and its automated avoidance capabilities to mitigate the risk of a mid-air collision. This approval is another step forward for the industry and shows that the FAA is using what it has learned through the Integration Pilot Program, and now the BEYOND program, to expand UA operations and enable use cases previously not possible. In 2021, the FAA approved 46 waivers to Part 107.31, more than the previous 4 years combined. The increased number of approvals and the willingness of the FAA to approve operations like the one we’re undertaking with the City of Reno is a signal that they are looking to advance the industry and integrate UA into the national airspace.
For Iris Automation as a company, this approval represents the continued validation of both our Casia line of products and our approach towards working with the FAA to help advance autonomous and automated drone operations. Each of the Casia systems, whether it be the multi-camera Casia X used for this waiver or our new ground-based Casia G system, are powered by the same computer vision and machine learning software. We’ve been carefully developing and testing Casia in its various forms since our inception, and we’ve worked closely with the FAA and our partners to solicit feedback and ultimately, approvals.
We’re thrilled to continue our work with our partners at the City of Reno, the City of Reno’s Fire Department and with the FAA to continue to drive the industry forward. We expect to see more waivers like these in the future and believe that Casia will serve as a key element in the next evolution of aviation.