Microsoft gives UND $100,000 for drone research, innovation

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Drone flying overhead in cloudy blue sky_1555344221434

The Microsoft Corporation has given $100,000 to the University of North Dakota to help boost the university’s (and the state’s) ambitions to be the epicenter of U.S. drone innovation and entrepreneurism.

The effort is being funded by a Microsoft TechSpark grant to foster economic opportunities in the state and is expected to attract over half a million dollars in additional investment in Airtonomy, the startup project Microsoft will partner with UND to develop.

“If successful, the project could be a breakthrough in autonomous unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operations with transformational benefits for industries such as agriculture, energy and public safety,” a Microsoft news release on the partnership stated.

“TechSpark saw the drone innovation in North Dakota’s Red River Valley that is driving exciting advances for the U.S. drone industry and wanted to be a part of it,” said Kate Behncken, general manager of Global Community Engagement at Microsoft. “This cutting-edge project has the potential to increase crop yields and boost the production of renewable energy through safe drone advancements created locally, leading to greater economic opportunities for North Dakotans.”

Microsoft selected North Dakota to be one of six TechSpark regions in 2017. TechSpark is Microsoft’s initiative to spark new economic opportunities and job creation in rural and smaller communities through local partnerships.

The UND Aerospace Foundation will use the $100,000 cash grant to partner with drone startup Airtonomy to undertake the project, which includes developing a proof of concept leveraging Microsoft Azure IoT Edge and artificial intelligence.

Airtonomy will field-test the platform’s capabilities to perform autonomous drone aerial imaging over the next year and its commercial applications.

“UND Aerospace has a long history of providing leadership in aerospace innovation and economic diversification by supporting projects that advance the UAS sector and increase high-tech services in the Grand Forks region,” said UND Aerospace Foundation CEO Chuck Pineo. “We are truly excited to partner with Microsoft on developing a concept that promises to develop into a high-growth technology company in our community.”

You can read more on the grant and the partnership between UND and Microsoft here.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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