IT security whiz sets sights on commercial drone management

Ping Identity co-founder puts PixiePath focus on getting commercial drones to work smart, together

drone with gopro digital camera mounted underneath   22 april 2013
Don McCullough (CC BY 2.0)

The Federal Aviation Administration has taken a hard line so far against most commercial uses of unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e., drones) for safety and privacy reasons. But one other good reason for taking things slowly is that the software for managing such drones has trailed hardware development.

A new company called PixiePath seeks to address the software shortage by delivering SaaS-based tools for controlling fleets of commercial drones. Because of the FAA taking its time to outline rules, PixiePath could find its first big opportunities up North or overseas in what's expected to be a multibillion commercial drone market before long.

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The self-funded Santa Barbara startup is the brainchild of Bryan Field-Elliot, whose name might be familiar to enterprise IT pros who use products from security company Ping Identity. Field-Elliot co-founded Ping back in 2002.

His latest venture, now on the prowl for seed funding, makes clear that it is not focused on the software used to keep drones aloft or on route. Rather, PixiePath is all about getting drones to work smart together, taking the least cost route or getting ready for their next task, whether it be grabbing data or delivering merchandise.

"I believe there is an underserved market in the form of web and enterprise integration points for drone activities," says Field-Elliot, who has been flying drones himself for about a year.

teaser map pixiepath PixiePath

Example of PixiePath user interface

PixiePath's tools consist of adapters for DJI and PIXHawk-based drones to send telemetry to the cloud, and wait for positioning commands returning from the cloud, as well as a cloud-based Javascript event engine with which developers can make complex applications that work with a whole fleet as well as interact with other APIs across the Internet.

PixiePath plans to sell its tools and services to organizations with commercial drone fleets, enabling them to integrate the inputs, such as positioning, and outputs, such as camera or sensor data, with the Internet at large or their corporate networks. Systems integrators and application developers will be able to use the orchestration tools as well to build higher-order apps.

While we haven't found many classic enterprise IT companies willing to talk about their efforts on the commercial drone front, Field-Elliot says PixiePath plans to develop software that will build bridges to vendors' platforms. In particular, the company plans to have its hooks into Microsoft APIs in the next year.

PixiePath doesn't shy away from using the term drone, except in its name. Recognizing that drones have a mixed public perception because of the military variety, the company latched onto the term pixie for the mythical small-winged creature seen as mostly harmless. That's the image of drones that this company hopes to foster by helping organizations exploit them in a safe way.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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