Innovation in Fairfax County: ANRA Technologies

ANRA Technologies doesn't fly drones, but the Reston-based company, founded by CEO Amit Ganjoo, aims to make life easier and safer for those that do.

ANRA provides UAV (that's unmanned aerial vehicle) operators and service providers with an off-the-shelf platform for launching and managing drone operations.

Ganjoo's passion is aviation. He is a licensed private pilot who has built his own experimental aircraft. Growing up, he built radio-controlled model aircraft -- precursors to drones -- which could fly autonomously.

"A drone is really a radio-controlled aircraft with an autopilot," says Ganjoo, who jokes that he founded his business with an idea scribbled on the back of a napkin.

But drones are no joke. They're big business and becoming bigger. In a January report, Goldman Sachs predicted that drones would create a $100 billion market opportunity by 2020.

ANRA actually offers two software platforms for commercial operators. Its DroneOSS Platform is focused on commercial workflow orchestration. The DroneUSS Platform is for low-altitude unmanned air traffic management and the safe integration of drones into the national airspace.

ANRA's cloud-based platform works for both line of sight (LOS) and beyond line of sight (BLOS) operations. It employs multiple UAVs as flying swarm nodes with portable and cloud-based control stations. It also leverages commercial cellular networks, where available, to provide low-cost network functionality.

"Our platform actually ties everything together and gives customers one interface to manage end-to-end drone operations," Ganjoo says.

One of the beauties of ANRA's product is that it is an airframe agnostic platform, meaning that it can work with any drone.

"Ours is the only open platform that lets the user and customer choose the best group of components to orchestrate the whole workflow," Ganjoo says.

ANRA's software can do everything from flight planning, flight path monitoring and autonomous execution of the flight to data collection, data analytics and utilization of that actionable data.

Ganjoo says early adapters in the drone industry include law enforcement, disaster response teams, search-and-rescue units and insurance companies

"We are in a very nascent marketplace," he says. "Technology is evolving but, right now, regulations are what's holding everything back.

"Over the next 12 to 24 months, I envision a lot of experimentation and evaluation. Eventually, we'll see that transition to commercialization. Instead of flying one drone, you'll see enterprises flying a couple hundred drones with highways in the sky. Eight or 10 years down the line, we might need a highway 'traffic light.' It won't just be small drones that are flying, but package-carrying, passenger-carrying flying taxis."

Drone technology continues to evolve. This spring, ANRA has participated in multiple tests. In March, ANRA took part in testing at the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, collaborating with General Electric, NASA and Amazon in a successful test of communication and deconfliction with real aircraft. 

In April, ANRA was involved with field tests led by the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership as part of a two-phase evaluation focused on integration of advanced sense-and-avoid capabilities. The net result is that technology is proving it can keep multiple aircraft safe even when the unexpected occurs.

Anticipating the drone explosion, Ganjoo says ANRA couldn't be in a better place than Reston. 

"Technically, we could run this company anywhere in the country," he says. "But my family loves it her. I love it here. We have access to the right type of talent resources and we're right next to Dulles Airport -- and being next to a (transportation) hub is great."