With help from UNH, local drone business wins NOAA grant

Friday, September 17, 2021
Two people fly a drone on a rocky coast

Portsmouth-based Nearview leveraged training provided through UNH's FOSTER program to secure a NOAA grant to use drone technology to map intertidal vegetation. Photo courtesy of Nearview.

A UNH program that helps New Hampshire small businesses grow by accessing federal grant funding has notched its first major success. Portsmouth-based Nearview, a participant in UNH’s FOSTER program, has received $150,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to develop an artificial intelligence model for its aerial drone environmental services.

“The staff and consultants of the FOSTER program were really instrumental in helping Nearview win this award.”

“The staff and consultants of the FOSTER program were really instrumental in helping Nearview win this award,” says Stefan Claesson ’08G, principal scientist and owner of Nearview. “From review of proposal narratives to hammering out budget details, they helped us to navigate a complex application process. We are grateful for the support we received and look forward to working with the FOSTER program on future SBIR proposal opportunities.”

FOSTER — Focused SBIR/STTR Teaching, Equity and Results — is an initiative led by UNHInnovation that seeks to increase the number of Granite State small businesses, particularly those in underserved communities, that successfully compete for research and development funding from the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Historically, only a handful of New Hampshire small businesses, which employ nearly half of all state workers, have received these grants.

The FOSTER program offers New Hampshire businesses free services such as grant identification, training, advice and proposal support. Since its launch in 2020, FOSTER has provided SBIR/STTR training to approximately 45 New Hampshire companies and awarded seven New Hampshire businesses, including Nearview, microgrants for additional proposal development assistance.

Nearview deploys small unmanned aerial systems with advanced remote sensing capabilities and offers surveying, mapping, analysis and monitoring to organizations and individuals around the world. Nearview specializes in supporting natural resource management, alternative energy initiatives, infrastructure projects, cultural research and environmental justice campaigns.

The company’s NOAA grant supports developing an artificial intelligence model that will automate detection and mapping of intertidal vegetation. The project will leverage drone technology and deep learning to build a platform that to help stakeholders —wild seaweed harvesters, conservation groups, government agencies, municipalities, environmental scientists, coastal engineers and private property owners — make better decisions to ensure the sustainability of resources and build resilient coastal communities in the face of climate change, sea-level rise and other human impacts such as coastal development, pollution and overharvesting of resources.

“We are excited to hear of Nearview’s award and expect it will be the first of many success stories,” says Marc Eichenberger, FOSTER project director and interim director of UNHInnovation. Eichenberger adds that FOSTER just received a second round of funding. “This additional support means we can continue through September of 2022 to provide New Hampshire companies with training workshops and speaker series led by industry experts, add additional resources like startup bootcamps and increase direct support for companies by expanding our microgrant program.”

FOSTER is available to New Hampshire technology businesses with fewer than 500 employees, with an important mandate to support underserved communities such as women- and minority-owned businesses, rural as well as socially and economically disadvantaged companies.