About Qelzal

Our Purpose

Qelzal has invented a new vision technology that lets commercial drones safely fly faster and farther without crashing into objects either in the sky or on the ground. This approach processes input more quickly, is less power intensive, and works in more light conditions than any existing technology.

Qelzal delivers an autonomous drone Sense and Avoid system using Image Free Sensing™ combined with brain-inspired artificial intelligence for rapid response and collision avoidance. Qelzal’s “intelligent eyes” perceive objects, determine if they are a threat, then plan a path to avoid. The onboard AI system performs in diverse light conditions, without adding unnecessary power or weight.

This capability is ideal for use in aircraft avoidance and infrastructure inspection.


The Qelzal Team comprises the critical and necessary combination of experienced business executives with deep roots in the community and visionary technology experts uniquely qualified to bring state-of-the art collision avoidance to the burgeoning commercial drone market.


Rob Benson, CEO

Rob brings commercialization experience gained from building large and small technology-based businesses delivering both hardware and software. Rob is an experienced and versatile senior executive with operational experience at some of San Diego’s most high-profile companies including HNC, Fair-Isaac (FICO) and ID Analytics. Rob is a hands-on leader who oversees the day to day progress of development while seeking new opportunities for the company. 


Dr. Olivier Coenen, CTO, Chief Scientist, Founder

Dr. Coenen brings brain-inspired engineering ideas developed from his work at the Salk Institute, Sony, and the Brain Corporation. At Brain, he designed “an artificial nervous system for UAV’s” as part of a DARPA project. Olivier’s work has been the basis for funding in his previous positions and he has participated in the development of numerous patents. His interests and experience includes deep learning, machine learning, signal processing and robotic control. Olivier has a PhD in Physics from UCSD.

Steve Bowden, Business Development

Steve Bowden brings a deep knowledge of embedded systems and a history of successfully building large scale sales organizations and strategic partnerships. Steve’s past positions include stints as senior sales executive at WindRiver, Silicon Graphics, Microsoft and Eastman Kodak. Steve has served as a venture capitalist, angel investor and advisor to a number of startups in Silicon Valley and San Diego.

Company Development

Founded in 2014, Qelzal was formed to leverage expertise in natural vision systems, deep learning, and machine vision.  Novel advances in electro-optical sensors presented particularly interesting opportunties to make meaningful improvements in the operational performance available to the commerical drone industry.  Our primary objective became to make drones safer so as to unleash the economic possibilities presented by the rapidly developing commercial drone market.

A fast obstacle avoidance system was developed in part under a DARPA SBIR grant by Qelzal. An airborne High Performance Sense and Avoid system was developed in part as an NSF SBIR project. Qelzal seeks business and development partners to aid in bringing this important technology to world markets.

A fast obstacle avoidance system was developed in part under a DARPA SBIR grant.

An airborne High Performance Sense and Avoid system was developed in part as an NSF SBIR project.

Qelzal is an EvoNexus Portfolio Company. EvoNexus is Southern California’s leading tech startup incubator.

Qelzal is a finalist in San Diego Venture Group’s Cool Companies 2017


Qelzal has benefited from participating in the LightSpeed Innovations accelerator, a leading aerospace accelerator focused on disruptive and differentiated businesses with patent-able and protected ideas.

Qelzal is a member of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce