Anduril Industries, a venture-capital backed startup, has acquired another startup, air-launched effects maker Area-I.
Anduril manufactures unmanned air vehicles (UAV) for perimeter surveillance and counter-UAV defence. The company also has developed an artificial intelligence program, called Lattice, that analyses sensor data, such as camera video feeds, using computer vision and machine learning techniques. Lattice is designed to direct automated responses to observations made by sensors, for example, by sending out a UAV to investigate detected movement.
Area-I, based in Marietta, Georgia, will continue to operate under its own name. It will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Anduril, which is based in Irvine, California. The acquisition amount was not disclosed. In July 2020, Anduril raised a $200 million round of capital at a $1.9 billion valuation.
Area-I is known for supplying the US Army with its Altius-600 air-launched effect, a sort of multipurpose UAV that the service is experimenting with. The US Army envisions air-launched effects deploying from rotorcraft for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), as well as communications and electronic warfare missions.
Area-I founder and chief executive Nick Alley said he decided to sell the company to Anduril because of the financial, business development and software development resources it could bring, as well as synergies between air-launched effects and the Lattice software. Anduril co-founder and chief executive Brian Schimpf says that some of the Lattice software could be quickly reapplied to Area-I’s family of Altius air-launched effects.
In general, Anduril wants to use its software to help military personnel make sense of the battlefield and to automate command and control of multiple UAVs at once.
The software might be used to help operators better understand the data coming from multiple air-launched effects at once, says Schimpf.
“How do you take that huge amount of sensor data, be it from visual sensors, [infrared] sensors, [radio frequency] detection, whatever it is, and be able to turn that into something that actually makes sense for a human operator?” he says. “It might be target recognition with computer vision… this is vehicle, a tank, and this is what type of tank it is.”
The software would draw on data from multiple sensors to track a tank’s precise position, says Schimpf.
“I can pull this from multiple sensors simultaneously; across multiple Altius, or an Altius and MQ-9 simultaneously,” he says. “You can fuse that information to get this composite picture and know exactly what’s happening.”
Anduril also wants to enable autonomous command and control of air-launched effects by simply having a user express an intent.
“You want the user to say, ‘I want to find targets that match these criteria, in these areas of approach,’” says Schimpf. “Or, ‘I want to go out and stimulate these targets. Tell me exactly where they are, when they light up the radar.’ You want to basically talk to the system, like you’re talking to a pilot. You’re giving an instruction of what you want to accomplish.”
Anduril has already built out technology to handle that sort of automation, he adds.
Although Area-I is known for its work with the US Army, that service is not its largest customer, says Alley. He declines to say who the company’s largest customer is. The startup is working with nearly every military service, says Schimpf.
With Anduril’s backing, Area-I plans to offer its family of Altius air-launched effects for more applications.
“The variety and span of platforms this can launch off of is unmatched,” says Schimpf. “Being able to have these expendable platforms go in and not risk any humans is absolutely critical. There’s just a huge applicability across the board for all of the services to take advantage of this.”
The US Navy’s (USN) push into unmanned systems is a potential opportunity, says Schimpf. Indeed, variants of the Altius might be launched from unmanned surface ships or even unmanned submersibles to extend those system’s ISR reach.
Rival drone-maker AeroVironment already works with the USN on launching its Blackwing UAV from underwater submarines. A similar underwater launch capability is possible with the Altius UAVs, say Schimpf and Alley, though they decline to give further details. Launching Altius air-launched effects from ground vehicles and fixed-wing aircraft is also possible, they say.
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