Boeing raises autonomy bet with Aurora acquisition

Boeing has agreed to acquire aerial drone and electric-powered aircraft maker Aurora Flight Sciences in an effort to continue advances in the field of autonomous technology.

Terms of the transaction were undisclosed and Aurora will add to Boeing almost 550 employees across six U.S. states. Aurora will operate as a subsidiary within Boeing’s main research-and-development research organization Boeing Engineering, Test & Technology, Boeing announced Thursday.

A Boeing spokesperson told Washington Technology the deal is subject to government approval with an "unpredictable timeline."

The deal's announcement comes within a month of a pair of other major deals in the aerospace-and-defense sectors. Northrop Grumman announced Sept. 18 that it would buy Orbital ATK to grow in the space market. That was preceded by United Technologies Corp.'s Sept. 5 disclosure that it would acquire Rockwell Collins to create a worldwide aerospace system and subsystem giant.

Headquartered in Manassas, Va., Aurora has collaborated with Boeing on several military and commercial projects on autonomous aircraft. Both companies are also prime awardees on the Air Force’s potential eight-year, $499 million “ASAPTR” contract to research new technologies for future air vehicles.

Aurora focuses on autonomous technologies with perception, machine learning and flight control systems and also builds electric propulsion tools for aircraft. The company says it has design, built and flown more than 30 vehicles since its 1989 founding.

Boeing has prioritized autonomous vehicles as an avenue for growth in recent years with moves that included the acquisition of aerial drone maker Insitu in 2008 and undersea drone manufacturer Liquid Robotics in December of last year.

Earlier this month, Boeing and rival Lockheed Martin were selected as finalists for the Navy’s “Orca” competition to build a new unmanned undersea vehicle.

Aurora’s founder and CEO John Langford will continue to lead the business post-close and it will keep its independent operating model, Boeing said in its release.

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also connect with him on LinkedIn.

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