A Grand Forks startup could begin on a project that would make data and imagery from unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) more available to everyone.

Evolve Analytics and the UND Aerospace Foundation have applied for a $100,000 grant from Microsoft's TechSpark program, the philanthropic arm of Microsoft. Microsoft TechSpark sponsored Regional Aerial Imagery Grant Competition, which Evolve and the UND Aerospace Foundation have applied to jointly.

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The funding would go toward proof of concept for a framework for secure, remote, autonomous, multi-drone operations that could potentially offer advantages over existing imagery processes. The Evolve Analytics project would be able to reuse imagery collected from a single drone flight for multiple industries and multiple companies within those industries. This would drive down the cost of obtaining that kind of data and enable it to become more mainstream and readily available.

"We believe our efforts are well aligned with the governor's recent $30 million UAS infrastructure proposal to support statewide beyond visual line of sight operations," said leader of Evolve Analytics, Josh Riedy. Gov. Doug Burgum announced that plan Nov. 30 as part of his executive budget recommendation.

UND Aerospace Foundation and Evolve are seeking a total of $350,000.

The two entities secured $50,000 from the Jobs Development Authority on Dec. 3. Next week, they will formally request $50,000 from the Grand Forks Region EDC on Thursday Nov. 13.

Microsoft's corporate office is also poised to support the project with $50,000, Riedy said. The thing that will make this project different is that Evolve will reuse the data collected from one flight in several ways or for several companies, said Keith Lund, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.

Much of the work that Evolve and the Aerospace Foundation plan to do is under non-disclosure agreements.

"TechSpark is helping us start a company and Microsoft corporate is poised to invest in a project," Riedy said.

Riedy said that the project plans to use Microsoft Azure technology, which is an internet of things framework. "Internet of things" refers to the interconnection via the internet of various computing devices in everyday objects. Riedy cited automatic locking locks or the Amazon Alexa as examples of things interconnected in the internet of things.

"Our goal is to create a similar type of environment for commercial sectors, especially utility companies, using this technology," Riedy said.

Microsoft's Azure technology also has a cloud offering that Riedy said the project will use.

The product will be available sometime between April and June of 2019.

To get the product ready, Riedy said that Evolve and the Aerospace Foundation will hire third-party workers, because they don't have full-time workers who could do the work now.

"But if the product is successful, our intention is to bring those kinds of jobs to Grand Forks so we don't have to use a third party," Riedy said.

Initially those jobs would be in computer or data science and application development.

"I am tremendously grateful, almost overwhelmed by the groundswell of community support in the Red River Valley, and in Grand Forks in particular," Riedy said. "It feels like this is the right place to do this work."