Commercial drone companies end 2020 on a strong note with slew of VC funding

Here’s one bout of good news to close out 2020 on a relatively strong note for the drone industry: two strong VC funding rounds, announced this month.

Indoor inspection drone company Flyability announced in December that it had raised 7 million euros (about $8.5 million USD) in a Series C funding round. That announcement came just days after computer vision-based technology company Iris Automation closed $13 million in Series B venture capital financing.

Elios 2 in Action 0004 Inspecting concrete
Flyability’s Elios 2 drone in action

Flyability’s Series C VC funding

Flyability’s roughly $8.5 million Series C round was co-led by Future Industry Ventures and Swisscom Ventures. Existing investor, ETF Partners, also participated in the round.

What does Flyability do?

The FAA and other aviation regulators don’t generally concern Flyability. That’s because Flyability specializes in technology optimized for indoor operations. The company is primarily focused on using drones for indoor industrial inspections in energy, power generation, chemical, mining and maritime industries. It makes a drone called the Elios 2.

While flying indoors means the company doesn’t need to worry about FAA regulations, indoor flying certainly isn’t exactly ‘easier.’ GPS positioning likely won’t help indoors, so indoor drones typically use technologies like artificial intelligence, computer vision, LiDAR, mini RADAR, and simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) to position the drone.

It’s a Swiss company that has since grown to have about 100 employees, with offices in Europe and the U.S., plus a network of over 50 resellers including China and Japan. Flyability CEO Patrick Thévoz said the company has more than 500 customers worldwide. One of those clients is a bit unique: a beer bottling factory.

Just before the coronavirus lockdowns, Flyability opened a new office in Denver, Colorado.

Iris Automations’s Series B VC funding

 Iris Automation‘s $13 million in Series B venture capital funding includes follow-on investment by Bessemer Venture PartnersBee PartnersOCA Ventures, and new investors Sony Innovation Fund and Verizon Ventures.

Iris said the VC funding round “acknowledges the criticality of collision avoidance and safety technology to the future aviation community.”

The company said a good chunk of the new money will be used to expand machine learning and AI capabilities and testing to improve and extend its Casia system. By improving detecting and classification capabilities, the company says it hopes to support expanded use cases, operational environments and aircraft compatibility.

The money will also fund Iris Automation’s continued participation in the Federal Aviation Administration’s BEYOND program. That program is a testing program done incorporating private companies to help study Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations with drones, having participating companies demonstrate operations that are repeatable, scalable and economically viable..

What does Iris Automation do?

Founded in 2015, Iris Automation is a computer vision technology company pioneering the development of advanced detection systems used to help provide detect-and-avoid capabilities that enable safer commercial drone operations, particularly Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) missions.

What these latest funding rounds mean for the drone industry

As coronavirus crushes many sectors, it’s encouraging to see growth in the drone industry. It makes sense, after all — drones are inherently a socially distanced product.

But still, projections for the future of the drone industry haven’t been as stellar as they were at one point. The drone industry is expected to be worth $42.8 billion by 2025, according to a German-based drone research firm Drone Industry Insights. That might sound like a lot, but it’s actually “a less optimistic picture than what (the firm) saw in 2019.”

The good news: one of the companies that seems to be slipping is Chinese drone maker DJI. While it still has a huge market share, DJI’s 2019 market share dropped from the year prior. But the drone industry is still growing overall. Perhaps that’s an opportunity for smaller companies — particularly those focused on industrial applications — to capitalize on the opportunity to grow.

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