Jonathan Downey, 32
The creator of control software for drones has foreseen the advantages of autonomous aircraft for years.
As an engineering and computer science student at MIT, Downey starts a group that builds drones and competes against other colleges.
While working for Boeing, he develops flight-control software for an autonomous helicopter funded by the Pentagon.
Founds a startup called Airware out of frustration with what he calls “inflexible and costly” autopilot systems for unmanned aircraft that made it hard to add new capabilities. Also spends five months flying tourists in a turboprop plane between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.
Airware ships its first control software to drone manufacturers.
General Electric invests in Airware, saying drones could help make it safer and cheaper to maintain industrial equipment such as power lines.
Airware launches several products intended to help big companies use drones. For instance, software designed by former game developers lets companies take aerial photos of sprawling facilities as easily as you would click on a map. State Farm uses Airware’s technology to inspect roofs after weather damage.
U.S. regulators remove rules that had tightly limited what companies could do with drones, clearing a path for many more companies to use Airware’s services.
An industry group, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems, predicts commercial drones will have created $80 billion in business value and 100,000 jobs by this time. “We will not be able to imagine doing our jobs without them,” says Downey.