A Boston-based company that brings autonomy to existing fixed-wing aircraft has come out of stealth to announce a new partnership. Merlin Labs is teaming up with Dynamic Aviation, the owner of the world’s largest private King Air fleet, to bring autonomy to 55 airplanes.
Merlin is also announcing $25 million in funding from GV (formerly Google Ventures). This places Merlin into a small but active pack of companies scrambling to bring autonomy to aviation.
“We’re proud to partner with Dynamic to begin the process of moving autonomy from the lab and to the market,” said Matthew George, Merlin co-founder and CEO. “This deal represents a major commercial milestone as well as Merlin’s commitment to supporting larger and more complex aircraft.”
Unmanned drones have now long been a part of the aerial landscape, but drones aren’t the only kind of self-driving aerial vehicle regulators have been dealing with. It may seem a foregone conclusion that self-driving cars are on the way, but we’ve heard less about autonomous aircraft, as I’ve written. That’s changing. Following recent crashes related to failures in autonomous systems onboard Boeing’s 737MAX, you might expect consumer confidence to have eroded significantly. However, a recent ANSYS study found that wasn’t the case. In fact, 70% of consumers say they are ready to fly in autonomous aircraft in their lifetime.
Merlin’s autonomy platform is aircraft-agnostic, focuses on onboard autonomy rather than remote piloting, and is being integrated into a wide variety of public- and private-sector aircraft.
The Dynamic Aviation partnership marks the first public implementation of Merlin’s technology. According to a statement, the performance of King Air aircraft with Merlin’s technology will support a wide range of public and private-sector missions. The first aircraft from the partnership is currently in flight trials in Mojave.
“We are honored to partner with Merlin by leveraging this leading-edge technology in an operational platform,” said Michael Stoltzfus, Dynamic Aviation CEO. “We look forward to serving alongside Merlin to create extraordinary value for customers around the world.”