Sep
14
2018
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Drone startup Airware crashes, will shut down after burning $118M

Drone operating system startup Airware today suddenly informed employees it will cease operations immediately despite having raised $118 million from top investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Google’s GV, and Kleiner Perkins. The startup ran out of money after trying to manufacture its own hardware that couldn’t compete with drone giants like China’s DJI. The company at one point had as many as 140 employees, all of which are now out of a job.

A source sent TechCrunch screenshots from the Airware alumni Slack channel detailing how the staff was told this morning that Airware would shut down.

Airware makes a cloud sofware system that helps enterprise customers like construction companies, mining operations, and insurance companies reviewing equipment for damages to use drones to collect and analyze aerial data. That allowed companies to avoid using expensive helicopters or dangerous rigs with humans on harnesses to make inspections and gauge work progress.

One ex-employee asked “How do I get my options sent to me on paper so I can burn them all in a fire??

Founded in 2011 by Jonathan Downey, the son of two pilots, Airware first built an autopilot system for programming drones to follow certain routes to collect data. It could help businesses check rooftops for damage, see how much of a raw material was coming out of a mine, or build constantly-updated maps of construction sites. Later it tried to build its own drones before pivoting to consult clients on how to most efficiently apply unmanned aerial vehicles.

While flying high, Airware launched its own Commercial Drone Fund for investing in the market in 2015, and acquired 38-person drone analytics startup Redbird in 2016. In this pre-crypto, pre-AI boom, Airware scored a ton of hype from us and others as tried to prove drones could be more than war machines. But over time, the software that shipped with commercial drone hardware from other manufacturers was good enough to make Airware irrelevant, and a downward spiral of layoffs began over the past two years, culminating in today’s shutdown. Demonstating how sudden the shut down is, Airware opened a Tokyo headquarters alongside an investment and partnership from Mitsubishi just four days ago.

“Airware was ahead of the game trying to build their software. So far ahead that the drone hardware on the market wasn’t sophisticated enough to actually produce the granularity of data they needed to test out their software/train their algorithms” an ex-employee told TechCrunch (emphasis ours). “So they spent shitloads of money designing bespoke hardware, including two drones in-house, one multi-rotor called an AT-28, and one fixed-wing called Cygnet. Both projects were scuttled as hardware from DJI and Ebee caught up to needs, after sinking tons of engineering time and manufacturing into them.”

Following TechCrunch’s inquiry about the unnannounced news, Airware confirmed the shut down to us with this statement:

“History has taught us how hard it can be to call the timing of a market transition. We have seen this play out first hand in the commercial drone marketplace. We were the pioneers in this market and one of the first to see the power drones could have in the commercial sector. Unfortunately, the market took longer to mature than we expected. As we worked through the various required pivots to position ourselves for long term success, we ran out of financial runway. As a result, it is with a heavy heart that we notified our team, customers, and partners that we will wind down the business.

This is not the business outcome we had worked so hard for over the years and yet we are deeply proud of our company’s accomplishments and our leadership in driving the adoption of drone powered analytics to improve productivity, mitigate risks, and take workers out of harm’s way.

As we close the book of Airware; we want to thank the partners and customers who believed in us and helped us along the way. And, while it is difficult to say goodbye to our team, we want to thank them for all they have contributed to Airware and the industry. We look forward to seeing how they will take their learnings from Airware to fuel continued innovations in the world around us.”

[Update: Since we broke the news, Airware has put up a “thank you” note about the shutdown informing clients that “A representative from the Airware team will be in touch.”]

An Airware-hardware equipped drone

Employees will get one week’s severance, COBRA insurance until November, and payouts for unused paid time off. It appears the startup wasn’t able to raise necessary funding to save the company or secure an acquisition from one of its strategic partners like Catepillar.

Airware will serve as cautionary tale of startup overspending in hopes of finding product-market fit. Had it been more frugal, saved cash to extend its runway, and given corporate clients more time to figure out how to use drones, Airware might have stayed afloat. Sometimes, even having the most prestigious investors can’t save a startup from mismanagement.

Our ex-employee source concludes that “I think having $118M in the bank led Airware to charge ahead and sink tons of money into force-it-to-work methods rather than exercise a bit of patience and wait for the inevitable advance of hardware to catch up. They had a knack for hiring extremely talented and expensive people from places like Google, Autodesk, there was even SpaceX and NASA alumni there.

They spared no expense ever.”

May
07
2018
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Microsoft and DJI team up to bring smarter drones to the enterprise

At the Microsoft Build developer conference today, Microsoft and Chinese drone manufacturer DJI announced a new partnership that aims to bring more of Microsoft’s machine learning smarts to commercial drones. Given Microsoft’s current focus on bringing intelligence to the edge, this is almost a logical partnership, given that drones are essentially semi-autonomous edge computing devices.

DJI also today announced that Azure is now its preferred cloud computing partner and that it will use the platform to analyze video data, for example. The two companies also plan to offer new commercial drone solutions using Azure IoT Edge and related AI technologies for verticals like agriculture, construction and public safety. Indeed, the companies are already working together on Microsoft’s FarmBeats solution, an AI and IoT platform for farmers.

As part of this partnership, DJI is launching a software development kit (SDK) for Windows that will allow Windows developers to build native apps to control DJI drones. Using the SDK, developers can also integrate third-party tools for managing payloads or accessing sensors and robotics components on their drones. DJI already offers a Windows-based ground station.

“DJI is excited to form this unique partnership with Microsoft to bring the power of DJI aerial platforms to the Microsoft developer ecosystem,” said Roger Luo, DJI president, in today’s announcement. “Using our new SDK, Windows developers will soon be able to employ drones, AI and machine learning technologies to create intelligent flying robots that will save businesses time and money and help make drone technology a mainstay in the workplace.”

Interestingly, Microsoft also stresses that this partnership gives DJI access to its Azure IP Advantage program. “For Microsoft, the partnership is an example of the important role IP plays in ensuring a healthy and vibrant technology ecosystem and builds upon existing partnerships in emerging sectors such as connected cars and personal wearables,” the company notes in today’s announcement.

May
22
2017
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Kuang-Chi invests $5 million in SkyX, a maker of drones to monitor oil and gas pipelines

 Shenzhen-based Kuang-Chi Group is investing $5 million in SkyX Systems Corp., according to the drone tech startup’s founder and CEO Didi Horn. A former fighter pilot with the Israeli Air Force, Horn started SkyX in 2015 to help public and private companies monitor energy infrastructure from on high, using increasingly powerful drones and big data analytics. Read More

May
09
2017
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Volans-i shows off its long-range delivery drones in Texas

 Whether flying food or medication to customers’ doors, drones for delivery have arrived. Businesses as far-ranging as UPS, Domino’s, Amazon and the hospital group Ticino EOC are testing drones. Still, most drones built for delivery only fly for a short time and distance. Now, a startup called Volans-i has developed long-range drones for business to business, express deliveries. Read More

Apr
18
2017
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With DroneDeploy’s Fieldscanner, pilots can create maps as they fly

 Flying drones to inspect a farm, construction site, or any other venue from overhead can generate a huge amount of data. It takes time, though, for drone users to upload and turn this high-resolution data into maps, graphs or business intelligence they can act upon. Today, a data management platform for drones called DroneDeploy, is launching a tool called Fieldscanner that makes it possible… Read More

Apr
06
2017
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SkyX drones are half-helicopter, half-plane and built to fly long distances

 A Markham, Ontario startup called SkyX Ltd. emerged from stealth today to share with TechCrunch details about its unique industrial drone designs. The company’s SkyOne drones take off and land like a helicopter, but fly more like an airplane, with a range of more than 25 miles (40 km) per charge. For drone industry nerds, this means they have both VTOL and fixed-wing elements. Read More

Mar
27
2017
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Airobotics scores authorization to fly autonomous drones in Israel

 A startup based in Petah Tikva, Israel, Airobotics, has scored the right to fly drones autonomously for business purposes in Israel. The Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI) was the first in the world to authorize commercial, fully unmanned drone flights in their nation’s airspace. Read More

Mar
07
2017
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John Deere partners with Kespry to bring drones and aerial data to construction and forestry

 Heavy equipment makers Deere & Co., better known as John Deere, have forged a strategic alliance with drone-tech startup Kespry, the companies announced Tuesday in Las Vegas at CONEXPO, an international trade show for the construction industry. The deal could prove a boon for sales of Kespry’s drones and data analytics software. It could help John Deere tap into a new, high-tech means… Read More

Feb
23
2017
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AirMap raises $26 million to manage air traffic as drone use surges

battle-drones Lower airspace isn’t crowded with drones quite yet. But as drones become more pervasive, a startup called AirMap is building software and systems to help drone operators fly only where it’s safe and legal to do so. The task will prove completely different from that of managing airliners as we do today, says AirMap CEO and cofounder Ben Marcus who is also serving as the co-chair for… Read More

Feb
21
2017
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Exyn unveils AI to help drones fly autonomously, even indoors or off the grid

Exyn Technologies AI software allows drones to fly without pilots where GPS and Wifi isn't available. A startup called Exyn Technologies Inc. today revealed AI software that enables drones to fly autonomously, even in dark, obstacle-filled environments or beyond the reaches of GPS. Read More

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