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Manifold Robotics licenses Army Research Lab technology for use of drones near power lines

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

BROOKLYN, NY - Manifold Robotics, a Brooklyn-based startup, announced the signing of a US license agreement with CCDC Army Research Laboratory (ARL) that will significantly improve the safe use of drones near power lines.

The new sensor enables drones to detect power lines at a distance and is expected to accelerate the development of drone applications such as power line inspection systems and freight delivery drones. The technology was originally developed by Army scientists for detecting energized power lines in the vicinity of an aircraft. Under the terms of the agreement, Manifold Robotics will develop and commercialize the new technology for drone-based inspection applications.

Electrical power lines have posed a significant crash hazard for aerial systems especially small unmanned aerial systems (UASs). This is because power lines are so widespread, hard to see, and located at a height that is common for drone flight paths. “We are incredibly pleased to have Manifold Robotics as a licensee. Commercialization of our power line detection methods could have a significant impact on the development of autonomous UAS that operate near power lines,” said David Hull, Team Leader and primary inventor at the US Army Research Lab.

The ARL invention describes onboard electromagnetic field sensors which provide necessary detection measurements as well as software used to model the power line location. Alternative methods for detecting power lines, such as radar- or laser-based systems, are expensive, bulky and power hungry. Simple methods that use only passive electric or magnetic-field sensors can easily fail as they do not properly indicate the orientation of the lines, or otherwise help aircraft avoid power lines.

“We’re delighted to be working with ARL and expect that the Army technology will help us rapidly facilitate many autonomous drone applications, particularly those for power utilities and commercial operations,” said Jeff Laut, CEO at Manifold Robotics. With the new technology, Manifold intends to create a drone-based system that will detect power lines at a distance and determine their precise location to enable safe navigation.

This will overcome the factors that limit the efficacy of drones in the vicinity of power lines and unleash their full potential for autonomous power line inspection as well as beyond visual line of sight operation. “With the rapid proliferation of drones for autonomous applications, we imagine that freight delivery companies may also be able to leverage our technology and transform power line rights-of-way into superhighways for drone freight deliveries,” Laut added.

About Manifold Robotics

Founded in 2016, Manifold Robotics Inc. was a spinoff from New York University Tandon School of Engineering with Jeffrey Laut as President and CEO. At that time, Manifold focused on robotics, human-machine interaction, and environmental science seeking to commercialize a small-scale autonomous robotic vehicle designed to collect data on water quality. The team was awarded a grant from PowerBridgeNY as well as an NSF SBIR Phase I award. The power line detection technology was first launched as a startup project funded by the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), a Department of Defense innovation program office, to facilitate the transfer and transition of defense dual-use technology. The postdoctoral project, led by Jeffrey Laut and under the direction of Prof. Maurizio Porfiri, was incubated in the Dynamical Systems Lab at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, where the plan was to validate the technology and create a viable commercialization strategy.


The CCDC Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army's corporate research laboratory, ARL discovers, innovates and transitions science and technology to ensure dominant strategic land power. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our Nation's wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.

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Contact: Art Julius

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