Revolution.Aero Uplift: Neuron wins Pitch competition
Neurons are key units of the brain and nervous system. They also inspired the idea behind Neuron Innovations, which won Revolution.Aero’s Pitch competition designed to celebrate early-stage talent in advanced air mobility.
One of the signs of this market maturing were seen when software-based companies dominated last week’s competition.
Neuron is developing a surveillance-as-a-service platform which combines multiple data sources from ground-based transponders. It is not aiming to manage air traffic, but rather use its proprietary data fusion algorithms to coherently display information in the form of an app.
In the future, co-founder James Dunthorne and his team thinks they can provide this information to the pilots onboard aircraft as well, via Traffic Information Service-Broadcast (TIS-B).
Neuron’s solution aims to integrate ground-based detect-and-avoid capabilities on unmanned aircraft. It is using transponders rather than radars to do this, as radars “cost millions, if not tens of millions of pounds”, said Dunthorne. He also said they cannot see small drones.
“We combine multiple data sources, from ground-based transponder receivers, radar systems out of airports and from drone technology itself,” said Dunthorne. Neuron will pull all this data together to create a trusted airspace picture.
Yesh Premkumar, national partnership lead, Hyundai Urban Air Mobility, said: “I see this as a meta layer of an unmanned traffic management [UTM] system, or a digital network that an operator or OEM can use or buy.”
Dean Donovan, MD, DiamondStream said: “Neuron has an incremental approach to a really big thorny problem. I like the federated system, something that is very flexible and not monolithic. My biggest concern is how do you get something like that to scale?”
Neuron is aiming for a de-centralised solution. Dunthorne said: “No government is going to allow a single company to control their skies. And we’re the only company out there with a federated model for this solution at the moment. So, I think being first to market is a huge thing for us.”
Data shows that there will be 2.7bn commercial drone flights per annum in 2026, according to Dunthorne’s presentation. He thinks the company can capture 360m of these flights.
The company intends to generate revenue by charging companies which want to consume data. “We pay people who provide data into our network and charge those that want to consume data. And then we have a service fee on top.”
The average cost per flight equates to £1.29 ($1.80 USD), meaning the company hopes to generate £464m ($632m) annually. “There are other revenue streams we can look at. Insurance, law enforcement and weather data as well,” said Dunthorne.
Neuron’s target markets include Europe, America, parts of Asia and Africa.
$628,000 – UK government grants
$51,000 – Angel investors
Ask: $680,300 (£500,000).
How does it work?
Neuron’s product is a distributed network with API-driven microservices deployed on top of a scalable, patentable service.
“That network is actually run and governed by other companies. We don’t believe that we can run and own it by ourselves. We believe that needs to be owned by others.”
There is also a sensor which will connect to devices and feed information.
The company has so far won $628,000 in UK government grants, as well as received investment from three angel investors to the tune of $51,000. It plans to launch a Series A funding round in the summer of 2022.
At this stage, Neuron is asking for £500,000 ($680,300) to hire staff, increase its digital presence, create drone zones and develop overseas activity. Investor exit points are possible in 12-18 months, with its Series A or three to five years with an IPO or buyout.
It has more than 20 partnerships with other innovators in this sector, including Collins Aerospace, Vertical Aerospace and London Heathrow Airport. “We have integrations with two drone manufacturers and two sensors.”
Dunthorne said the company has its minimum viable product as well as a UK patent planned in October. Before this, it is looking to introduce its drone zones – to test the product and work with others – by August 2021. It will close its current funding round in November, try and achieve certification in May 2022 and do a full beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) in June.
Upon selecting Neuron as winner, Premkumar said: “In terms of what the market needs right now – especially with the migration towards electric aviation for passenger and cargo – Neuron has the most value. It needs a partner to create the product around their capability. Someone has to create a user interface for a national usable product.”
A brainy solution indeed.