The Greater Zurich Area is the world's leading location for the development of core technology (software, autopilot, sensors) for drones and in commercial applications. Leading universities such as ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich, a large and active community of developers, numerous drone and component manufacturers and innovation-friendly authorities make Switzerland the "Silicon Valley of robotics".
ETH Zurich is one of the world's leading universities - also in the fields of robotics and drones. In numerous laboratories, technologies and algorithms are developed that use drones to explore a wide variety of areas such as solar energy, the environment, computer vision, mapping or the limits of dynamic systems and controls. The University of Zurich also conducts cutting-edge research in the field of drones. Universities of applied sciences such as the ZHAW or the Hochschule für Technik Rapperswil (HSR) are very strong in the training of engineers. The ZHAW is also researching ways to make drones even safer in the future. Outside Zurich, a second strong pillar of the Swiss drone ecosystem has developed around the EPFL in Lausanne.
Open source software / developer community
The PX4 software, developed by ETH Zurich doctoral candidate Lorenz Meier and his team, has become a kind of gold standard for drone control systems used by numerous commercial, industrial and academic users. The source code of PX4 is open source and is therefore freely available. In the last ten years, an international community of about 400 active developers has grown bottom-up from Zurich, further developing the platform. The origins of the PX4 ecosystem is one of the reasons why so many companies in Zurich are working on drones. The software is part of an ecosystem of open source projects managed by the Linux Foundation, which in addition to flight control includes other elements such as ground stations, communication between drone and ground, and machine vision (computer vision). Auterion, the largest open source drone software company and largest contributor to the PX4 ecosystem is also based in the Greater Zurich Area.
Local companies and start-ups
Drone companies: Aerotain (interactive blimp shows), Auterion (drone operating system), Daedalean (autopilot software), Drone Harmony (flight planning app), Flarm (traffic awareness and collision avoidance technology), Fotokite (tethered drones), Skypull (drone with wind power), Sunflower Labs (perimeter security drones), Verity Studios (indoor drone shows), Voliro (inspection and spraying flights), Wingtra (mapping VTOLs)
Component manufacturers: Distran (ultrasonic sensors), Fixposition (high-precision navigation), Insightness (visual sensors), Leica Geosystems (laser scanner), Sensirion (sensors for speed measurement), u-blox (GPS modules).
Leading global software companies
The drone ecosystem also benefits from the leading position of the Greater Zurich Area as a hub for information technologies with a very large talent pool of software developers. Companies such as Google, Microsoft HoloLens, Disney, Oculus (acquired by Facebook) and Dacuda (acquired by Magic Leap) are active in the area of computer vision. Related ecosystems are mutually fertilizing.
Swiss regulatory and supervisory authorities are progressive and pragmatic, not only when it comes to drones, and they are in constant contact with the industry concerned. They think and act according to the basic attitude: to regulate without hindering innovation. In September 2017, Skyguide and the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA), together with their industrial partners, demonstrated for the first time worldwide how drones can be safely and efficiently integrated into existing airspace.
Interested to know more about the thriving drone technology ecosystem of Greater Zurich? The experts Andreas Lamprecht, CTO at AirMap, and Kevin Sartori, Co-Founder at Auterion explain in our webinar how the collaboration between academia, industry, and regulators works.