Australian drone startup inks partnership with University of Nevada

Australian aerial delivery drone developer Flirtey has struck an R&D partnership with the University of Nevada in Reno that will see the tertiary institution take an equity stake in the local startup.

The University of Nevada in Reno has taken an equity stake in Australian aerial delivery drone developer Flirtey, after the local startup inked a research and development (R&D) deal with the university.

The deal will see Flirtey, which was founded by CEO Matthew Sweeney and engineering students at the University of Sydney, develop its technology in collaboration with the University of Nevada in a bid to tackle the market in the United States once it opens up to commercial drone delivery.

"Flirtey is partnering with the University of Nevada, Reno, to pioneer an industry, to develop safe UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] delivery technology, and to position ourselves as a first mover when the US commercial market opens up," said Sweeney.

The US Federal Aviation Administration is yet to make a final call on how it should proceed with the commercial introduction of aerial unmanned delivery drones.

However, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority in Australia was one of the first in the world to legalise commercial flights by unmanned aerial vehicles, according to Sweeney, allowing the company to develop its technology.

Image: Flirtey

Flirtey claims that it has already conducted over 100 successful test deliveries of textbooks outdoors, during its test phase in partnership with university textbook vendor Zookal. Now, the partnership with the University of Nevada looks set to enable Flirtey to further its technological development.

The partnership will allow Flirtey to use the institution's R&D labs for design and manufacture and research collaboration, as well as access to the first indoor flight testing sites approved by the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems.

"The collaboration with the university is an important step in Flirtey's growth by allowing us to use their facilities and test Flirteys on campus," said Sweeney. "Nevada is one of just six locations in the US approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for UAV testing, with its close proximity to Silicon Valley, a budding tech scene, and state's strong aeronautical history, Reno is positioned to become the biggest little city in the world UAV space."

Mridul Gautam, the university's vice president for research and innovation, said that the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center, which includes aerial robot research, will take up an entire floor in the institution's new 25,000-square-foot Innovation Center in downtown Reno when it is completed.

"We look forward to collaborating with Flirtey and other innovators in the space to pioneer this industry together," said Gautam.

According to Sweeney, Flirtey has also been signing up beachhead clients in New Zealand wishing to offer the aerial drone service to their customers, initially as a series of live trials.

"New Zealand recognises a real opportunity to be one of the first movers in the commercial UAV market, and recently launched 'Airshare', a hub for UAV information, which will allow commercial operators to log their flights online to ensure maximum safety," said Sweeney.

Flirtey's University of Nevada agreement comes as Amazon and Google both make inroads into unmanned aerial delivery drone development, with each of the tech giants already having their own delivery programs, Amazon Prime and Google Shopping Express.

In fact, Google's secretive X lab has been running its Project Wing unmanned aerial delivery vehicle development program for two years, conducting test flights of the model aeroplane-sized drones in Australia during August.