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Boeing Launches Joint Venture to Manage Drone, Air Taxi in Urban Airspace

By Nick Zazulia | November 23, 2018
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NASA Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenge

Image courtesy of NASA

Boeing intends to launch an urban airspace management joint venture along with artificial intelligence company SparkCognition, the two companies announced Nov. 20.

Called SkyGrid, the new company will follow in the footsteps of NASA and other organizations endeavoring to develop infrastructure to support the budding urban use of drones and on-demand mobility solutions such as air taxis in the national airspace.

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Boeing and SparkCognition's SkyGrid will be based in Austin, Texas, and use blockchain technology, AI-enabled dynamic traffic routing, data analytics and cybersecurity features to enable operations from package delivery to emergency services, according to Boeing.

"SkyGrid is building the digital infrastructure that will make safe, seamless commercial and personal transport possible for billions of people around the world," said Steve Nordlund, vice president and general manager of subsidiary Boeing NeXt.

Boeing in July announced that it was forming Boeing NeXt with the goal of pursuing subjects such as unmanned traffic management, autonomous flight and advanced propulsion. The company's supersonic concept and EVTOL forays also fall under Boeing NeXt.

It was announced at the time that Boeing NeXt would work with SparkCognition, a company that Boeing previously invested $32.5 million in through its HorizonX Ventures investment arm, a division also headed by Nordlund. At the time of NeXt's creation, SparkCognition founder and CEO Amir Husain pegged the urban air mobility market at a potential $3 trillion, calling it "the largest new market in our lifetimes."

In addition to heading SparkCognition, Husain will serve as CEO of the newly formed SkyGrid.

"By offering scalable and robust capabilities in a single, integrated framework, SkyGrid will make large-scale air vehicle applications more practical and accessible," he said.

Boeing has not revealed whether the joint venture is a 50-50 split or what exactly the partnership between SkyGrid and Boeing's companies will look like, but the initiative exists as part of a plan to fill out the manufacturer's portfolio in the space, so there will likely be some collaboration.

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