An Edinburgh tech start-up has secured £100,000 investment from aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing to develop a pioneering AI safety inspection tool.
Anomalous has received the funding from the US aviation giant in order to enhance the safety inspection process for aircraft parts – which is currently carried out by humans.
The company, which is based on Princes Street in the capital, launched in March last year and had been working with Rolls Royce after mechanical engineering expert Euan Wielewski, co-founder and CEO, identified the opportunity for a machine learning process to improve the engine manufacturer’s safety tests during research work with the company.
With the Boeing deal, the application of the technology is set to be expanded to include all aircraft parts – which under current regimes are subject to rigorous safety checks using a range of tools as well as camera and scanning techniques, including infra-red, ultrasound and even mobile or tablet device images.
Anomalous – whose artificial intelligence (AI) based software detects defects in aircraft parts – beat off international competition from over 250 applicants to the inaugural Boeing and Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) programme. The ATI Boeing Accelerator will allow Anomalous to establish relationships with global aerospace companies, win investment and engage with the wider sector.
Starting in January, Anomalous founders Euan Wielewski and Matt Davies will spend three months working from London’s Public Hall with Boeing’s global network of experienced entrepreneurs, mentors and investors. Euan and Matt will share cutting-edge technical knowledge with other experts, collectively helping to develop sustainability-enabling technologies within Industry 4.0.
Euan Wielewski, Co-founder and CEO of Anomalous, said: “Our software helps inspection and maintenance teams find problems in any number of aircraft parts, from fan blades to other key engine components. The use of AI can make inspection faster and more accurate – an advantage that can save money, and even lives.
“Being selected for the ATI Boeing Accelerator is a huge opportunity for Anomalous and great validation of all the hard work we have put in over the last year. Working with the world’s biggest aerospace company through the accelerator programme will give us a fantastic platform to further develop our product and scale our business.”
Anomalous will also receive a £100,000 loan-convertible-to-shares equity investment from Boeing HorizonX Ventures along with first-hand access to ATI, Boeing and GKN Aerospace strategists and technical experts. The programme – designed and delivered by European accelerator Ignite – will help Anomalous to grow as a business. Anomalous will also have access to paid proof of concepts (POCs) with Boeing and GKN Aerospace.
Initial tests on turbines blades for Rolls Royce have indicated that the proprietary artificial intelligence technology can perform at the same level as human tests, which rely on a number of inspection tools including checking images for a variety of defects such as cracks, scratches, corrosion and even carbon fibre sub-surface abnormalities.
A ‘blind test’ is set to be carried out in the New Year when the technology is tested to see whether it can outperform humans, although Matt Davies, Anomalous co-founder and CPO, said the current plan is that the algorithm will serve to “enhance” the human inspection process rather than replace it.
He said: “This is a great opportunity for us to build relationships in the industry and deepen our understanding of our aerospace client’s needs. We are excited to continue to meet with teams on the front lines of maintenance and repair to understand their challenges and build a product that can truly enhance their capabilities and productivity. Their feedback, and our exposure to their process and supply chain, will be invaluable.
“Boeing and GKN are globally recognised aerospace pioneers; it is a privilege to be part of this inaugural programme. We are excited to get stuck in and demonstrate the capability of our technology.”
Davies confirmed that the proprietary algorithm will be limited to physical plane parts and there were currently no plans for the AI tool to be extended to include software systems, such as those on board the Boeing 737 Max aircraft, whose automated flight-control system called MCAS has been the focus of an ongoing safety probe following two air disasters – in October last year and March this year; the entire fleet of those type of aircraft are currently grounded worldwide.
In April, Anomalous will celebrate the end of the programme with a demo day, where they will pitch their business to customers, key industry stakeholders and investors to achieve commercial and equity outcomes.
Brian Schettler, Senior Managing Director at Boeing HorizonX Ventures, said: “Boeing is thrilled to be involved in this programme, as we believe the 10 selected startups are bringing new ideas and technologies into our industry. We’re excited to see how the accelerator builds on their existing capabilities and enhances their ability to impact aerospace with their innovation.”
Gary Elliott, CEO at the Aerospace Technology Institute, added: “We created this programme because we are looking for great technology from startups who have a different approach to innovation and will introduce a new way of thinking into aerospace and aviation. We are excited about working with new entrepreneurs with a great level of energy and different ways of approaching innovation.”
Paul Perera, VP Technology at GKN Aerospace, said: “We are really excited about what the startup community – especially around sustainability and industry 4.0 – can bring into aerospace. I believe there’s a lot of innovation in this ecosystem and it will be incredibly rewarding to work with Boeing and ATI to help generate the future leaders of the aerospace industry.”