Software mogul Tom Siebel funds AI, drone research to tackle energy crisis

Drones that fly out to inspect powerlines—and then recharge themselves by attaching to those same lines—is among the ideas that could come to life thanks to a new research fund launched Tuesday.

Software mogul Tom Siebel has created the Siebel Energy Institute, which will dole out US$10 million in grants over five years to fund research projects aimed at making the electrical grid more reliable, efficient and secure against attack.

Power companies worldwide are expected to spend as much as $2 trillion dollars this decade to make the grid smarter, installing smart meters in homes and sensors on power lines and transmission cables. But the vast amounts of data they’ll produce will only be useful if there are tools to analyze it, and that’s where the Energy Institute comes in.

It will fund projects to create new computer algorithms and machine learning techniques aimed at improving the electrical infrastructure. The first 24 grants, in amounts of $25,000 and $50,000, were awarded Tuesday to teams at a dozen computer science and engineering universities in the U.S., Japan, France and Italy.