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Tufts Alum Startup Interrogates Drone Data

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Tufts Alum Startup Interrogates Drone Data

Drones are becoming ubiquitous to every aspect of living today—assisting bridge inspectors examine otherwise inaccessible spaces, or monitor crop health for farmers, and help search and rescue teams. Likewise drones are also being put to use by drug runners and terrorists. An article by Taylor McNeil of Tufts University details a university startup that is investigating unmanned aerial vehicles.

Now, that’s where David Kovar comes in. His startup aims to glean data from drones, to understand how they and other autonomous systems work—and who is operating them. The data firm led by this Fletcher alumnus investigates unmanned aerial vehicles to understand how they and other autonomous systems work. “They are a very disruptive technology, but ultimately drones are flying pickup trucks,” said Kovar.

Kovar, who was in The Fletcher School’s Global Master of Arts Program in 2016-17, had been working in digital forensics for Ernst & Young, investigating cyber attacks on clients. Then, a few years ago, he discovered one could gather data from drones too when he received a drone for Christmas and began tinkering with it. And one of the first tests of his emerging ideas came from another GMAP veteran, Erik Modisett, F08, who works for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Having intercepted drug-running drone Modisett’s agents wanted to know if Kovar could decipher anything from it? By then Kovar had already developed software to analyze data in autonomous vehicles like drones, and he set to work. “We were able to tell them that it wasn’t just this one flight,” Kovar said. The people running the drone “had been doing this for several months, and we found places they were flying, and one was a house where they were doing tests of the drone. We said, you might want to go to that house.”

It was a good proof of concept, and soon Kovar had formed URSA (Unmanned Robotic Systems Analysis), a company that collects, integrates, analyzes, and presents data related to unmanned aerial vehicles.

Speaking to Taylor McNeil, Kovar revealed that his focus isn’t just criminal investigations. “We want to help society understand better how autonomous systems work,” he said. Kovar’s ideas for implementation of this investigative technology include helping those building autonomous systems making them safer, providing information to legislators to better understand what they are regulating, and working with insurance companies to explain how autonomous systems behave—“so when a claim comes in, they can understand exactly what the system was doing that led to the event,” he said.

Earlier this year, URSA was chosen to take part in the Techstars Boston four-month program for startups. The program was backed by AFWERX, the innovation arm of the U.S. Air Force. As drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles become more common, Kovar says, “They are a very disruptive technology, but ultimately drones are flying pickup trucks”, making it imperative to gather data about drones while monitoring them.

Original story: https://now.tufts.edu/articles/stalking-drones

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