Local startup, Airtonomy, awarded state’s first Microsoft “AI for Earth” grant, in partnership with the University of North Dakota

Grand Forks, ND – February 20, 2020 – Local startup, Airtonomy, in partnership with the University of North Dakota (UND), has been awarded the state’s first Microsoft “AI for Earth” grant to develop monitoring protocols of bird and bat mortalities using small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS).

Dr. Susan Ellis-Felege of UND’s Biology Department is working closely with Airtonomy to develop the AI-powered routines that facilitate automated bird and bat mortality surveys in an effort to meet industry compliance standards on wind farms. In addition to wildlife assessment, the grant provides Airtonomy with new resources to accelerate development of its fully autonomous solution for critical asset inspection, beginning with wind turbines but soon expanding to transmission and distribution lines as well as energy pipelines.

“Current environmental survey costs are significant. Assessments require a person to walk hundreds of miles a month at a wind farm to locate, identify, and collect carcasses to record mortalities and remove them to minimize vulnerability of scavengers such as eagles,” said Dr. Susan Ellis-Felege. “Reduction in costs and effort through new UAS methodologies could lead to better post-construction monitoring while facilitating pre-construction assessment of potential wind energy sites.”

As part of Microsoft’s recent commitment to become carbon negative by 2030, Airtonomy is well positioned to emerge as a leader in renewable energy innovation, playing a key part in helping power companies increase overall output and reduce the cost of maintenance over time, while keeping employees on the front lines safe.

“The Airtonomy solution offers tremendous cost savings for customers with minimal training involved,” says Josh Riedy, Founder and CEO of Airtonomy. “As the world depends more heavily on wind and other sources of renewable energy, we’re prepared to improve operational efficiency and safety conditions for our customers while simultaneously lessoning the impact on wildlife mortality."

AI for Earth is a $50 million, 5-year program that brings the full advantage of Microsoft technology to those working to solve global environmental challenges in the key focus areas of climate, agriculture, water and biodiversity. Through grants that provide access to cloud and AI tools, opportunities for education and training on AI, and investments in innovative, scalable solutions, AI for Earth works to advance sustainability across the globe.

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