As an engineering and computer science student at MIT, Downey starts
a group that builds drones and competes against other colleges.
While working for Boeing, he develops flight-control software for an
autonomous helicopter funded by
Founds a startup called Airware
out of frustration with what he calls
“inflexible and costly” autopilot systems for unmanned aircraft that
made it hard to add new capabilities.
Also spends five months flying tourists in a turboprop plane between
Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.
Airware ships its first control software to drone manufacturers.
General Electric invests in Airware,
saying drones could help make it
safer and cheaper to maintain industrial equipment such as power lines.
Airware launches several products
intended to help big companies
use drones. For instance, software
designed by former game developers lets companies take aerial photos of sprawling facilities as easily
as you would click on a map. State
Farm uses Airware’s technology to
inspect roofs after weather damage.
U.S. regulators remove rules that had
tightly limited what companies could
do with drones, clearing a path for
many more companies to use Airware’s services.
An industry group, the Association
for Unmanned Vehicle Systems, predicts commercial drones will have
created $80 billion in business value
and 100,000 jobs by this time. “We
will not be able to imagine doing our
jobs without them,” says Downey.
The creator of control software for
drones has foreseen the advantages
of autonomous aircraft for years.
Airware has raised more
than $70 million in venture
capital to make it easy for
companies to do things