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.”

Jan
09
2018
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IBM led on patents in 2017, Facebook broke into top 50 for the first time

 Patents may sometimes get a bad rap for how they are abused (and misused) by some companies for commercial gain, but they also remain a marker of how a tech company is progressing with its R&D and pushing ahead on innovation. For one measure of that advance, today, IFI Claims, the patent analytics firm, published its 2017 list of companies with the most U.S. patents assigned for the year.… Read More

Sep
15
2017
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A typical day for researchers on Google’s Brain Team

 What do you and researchers on Google’s Brain Team have most in common? You both probably spend a lot of time triaging email. In a Reddit AMA, 11 Google AI researchers took time to share the activities that consume the greatest chunks of their days. Email was a frequent topic of conversation, in addition to less banal activities like skimming academic papers and brainstorming with… Read More

Sep
07
2017
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Canvas’ robot cart could change how factories work

We stopped by Andy Rubin’s Playground in Palo Alto to check out a new autonomous cart from Canvas Technologies. The startup aims to replace existing fixed and expensive factory infrastructure, like conveyor belts, with its lightweight and adaptable computer-vision-powered cart. Read More

Aug
22
2017
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The top 7 startups from Y Combinator S’17 Demo Day 1

 A stem cell cryobank, self-flying personal planes and an augmented reality data platform were amongst the highlights of the Y Combinator Summer 2017 Demo Day part 1. Based on investor buzz and what caught the eye of TechCrunch’s writers, click or scroll through to see our picks for day 1’s top 7 startups. Read More

Aug
22
2017
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The top 7 startups from Y Combinator S’17 Demo Day 1

 A stem cell cryobank, self-flying personal planes and an augmented reality data platform were amongst the highlights of the Y Combinator Summer 2017 Demo Day part 1. Based on investor buzz and what caught the eye of TechCrunch’s writers, click or scroll through to see our picks for day 1’s top 7 startups. Read More

May
31
2017
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Read Mary Meeker’s essential 2017 Internet Trends report

 This is the best way to get up to speed on everything going on in tech. Kleiner Perkins venture partner Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report is essentially the state of the union for the technology industry. The widely anticipated slide deck compiles the most informative research on what’s getting funded, how Internet adoption is progressing, which interfaces are resonating,… Read More

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

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
29
2017
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GE invests $2 million in Alchemist Accelerator to back industrial IoT startups

 Alchemist Accelerator has raised $2 million from GE Digital to start a new program for industrial IoT startups. Stanford lecturer Timothy Chou, formerly President of Oracle On Demand, will chair Alchemist’s new IIoT accelerator along with GE Digital’s West Coast group. In the past, enterprise hardware and software startups were seen as capital intensive, with the challenge of… Read More

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