GE’s interest in drones dates back to at least 2014, when the company invested in enterprise drone analytics company Airware, which ceased operations in 2018.
In 2015, GE became Airware’s first enterprise customer when it began using Airware’s Aerial Information Platform (AIP), which allowed drone operators to consolidate fleet management, drone piloting, data analytics, and ground-based UAV management into a single dashboard.
In 2017, GE began providing autonomous inspection services to clients in the energy and manufacturing sectors.
GE’s drones performed tasks ordinarily handled by human inspectors, including monitoring industrial facilities for methane emissions and gathering data for use in predictive modelling to calculate chemical corrosion hidden under insulation.
To help solve the unique challenges of using UAVs for industrial inspections, GE formed Avitas Systems, a company that handles GE’s industrial drone programs.
GE launched another drone business in 2017, when the company announced its AiRXOS subsidiary. An ecosystem of products and services, AiRXOS aims to simplify air-traffic-control systems for drone operators.
Under FAA regulations, drone operators are forbidden from piloting UAVs in controlled airspace, which can create legal tensions for pilots seeking to fly drones near aviation centres. AiRXOS was awarded Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) accreditation by the FAA in October 2018, making it easier for GE to gain permission to operate its UAVs at prescribed altitudes near airports.