DroneDeploy teams with Boston Dynamics to deliver inside-outside view of job site

DroneDeploy, a cloud software company that uses drone footage to help industries like agriculture, oil and gas and construction get a birds-eye view of a site to build a 3D picture, announced a new initiative today that combines drone photos with cameras on the ground or even ground robots from a company like Boston Dynamics for what it is calling a 360 Walkthrough.

Up until today’s announcement, DroneDeploy could use drone footage from any drone to get a picture of what a site looked like outside, uploading those photos and stitching them together into a 3D model that is accurate within an inch, according to DroneDeploy CEO Mike Winn.

Winn says that while there is great value in getting this type of view of the outside of a job site, customers were hungry for a total picture that included inside and out, and the platform which is simply processing photos transmitted from drones could be adapted fairly easily to accommodate photos coming from cameras on other devices.

“Our customers are also looking to get data from the interiors, and they’re looking for one digital twin, one digital reconstruction of their entire site to understand what’s going on to share across their company with the safety team and with executives that this is the status of the job site today,” Winn explained.

He adds that this is even more important during COVID when access to job sites has been limited, making it even more important to understand the state of the site on a regular basis.

“They want fewer people on those job sites, only the essential workers doing the work. So for anyone who needs information about the site, if they can get that information from a desktop or the 3D model or a kind of street view of the job site, it can really help in this COVID environment, but it also makes it much more efficient,” Winn said.

He said that while companies could combine this capability with fixed cameras on the inside of a site, they don’t give the kind of coverage a ground robot could, and the Boston Dynamics robot is capable of moving around a rough job site with debris scattered around.

DroneDeploy bird's eye view of job site showing path taken through the site.

Image Credits: DroneDeploy

While Winn sees the use of the Boston Dynamics robot as more of an end goal, he says that more likely for the immediate future, you will have a human walking through the job site with a camera to capture the footage to complete the inside-outside picture for the DroneDeploy software.

“All customers already want to adopt robots to collect this data, and you can imagine a Boston Dynamics robot [doing this], but that’s the end state of course. Today we’re supporting the human walk-through as well, a person with a 360 camera walking through the job site, probably doing it once a week to documents the status of the job sites,” he said.

DroneDeploy launched in 2013 and has raised over $100 million, according to Winn. He reports his company has over 5000 customers with drone flight time increasing by 2.5x YoY this year as more companies adopt drones as a way to cope with COVID.


By Ron Miller

Skydio partners with EagleView for autonomous residential roof inspections via drone

Skydio only just recently announced its expansion into the enterprise and commercial market with hardware and software tools for its autonomous drone technology, and now it’s taking the lid off a brand new big partnership with one commercial partner. Skydio will work with EagleView to deploy automated residential roof inspection using Skydio drones, with service initially provide via EagleView’s Assess product, launching first in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area of Texas.

The plan is to expand coverage to additional metro areas starting next year, and then broaden to rural customers as well. The partners will use AI-based analysis, paired with Skydio’s high-resolution, precision imaging to provide roofing status information to insurance companies, claims adjustment companies and government agencies, providing a new level of quality and accuracy for property inspections that don’t even require an in-person roof inspection component.

Skydio announced its enterprise product expansion in July, alongside a new $100 million funding round. The startup, which has already delivered two generations of its groundbreaking fully autonomous consumer drone, also debuted the X2, a commercial drone that includes additional features like a thermal imaging camera. It’s also offering a suite of “enterprise skills,” software features that can provide its partners with automated workflows and AI analysis and processing, including a House Scan feature for residential roof inspection, which is core to this new partnership.


By Darrell Etherington

Enterprise drone service Kespry raises new funding from Salesforce Ventures

Kespry, a company that offers industrial users a subscription-based drone service, today announced that it has raised funding from Salesforce Ventures, marking that firm’s first hardware investment. With this, Salesforce and Kespry are also partnering around bringing Kespry’s drone services for the insurance industry to Salesforce’s own tools for this vertical. Sadly, the companies did not disclose the actual funding amount, but our understanding is that it’s a substantial amount that’s comparable to other Salesforce Ventures investments.

With its focus on industrial use cases the company, which was founded in 2013, has developed a strong foothold in the mining and aggregates space, where it offers tools for doing volumetric measurements of stockpiles based on the imagery it captures from its drones, for example. In addition, though, the company also focuses on the construction, insurance and — most recently — energy sector.

Today, Kespry has over 300 customers, the company’s CEO George Mathew tells me. Over 200 of those are the mining aggregates business and over 40 of these signed up for the company’s services in the last twelve months alone.

So while drones may not be at the top of the hype cycle right now, those companies that found their niche early on are clearly thriving. “Drones are very much a vibrant and moving landscape in terms of how much activity has gone on,” he said. “For us, we’ve been largely and continuously focused on the commercial aspects of the market that we can solve for really difficult industrial challenges. […] But I think others have had some challenges because it’s not the most straightforward thing to figure out a viable business model for scale in the drone space.”

Mathew argues that Kespry’s subscription model and the fact that it offers an end-to-end hardware and software solution is one of the reasons why the company is thriving today.

The Salesforce investment came about thanks to a chance encounter with that company’s CEO Marc Benioff at an industry event. As Salesforce was looking to offer more vertically oriented applications for the insurance industry, there was clearly a role for Kespry in this business. “We need a lot of need in the insurance space to get a claim processed when it comes to physical damage that may have occurred after a catastrophic event,” Mathew said. In those cases, Salesforce’s tools may be used to dispatch adjudicators already and these claims adjusters often also use Kespry’s services to fly the drones to assess roof damage, for example.

Kespry also signed on to Saleforce’s Pledge 1% program and as part of this, it contributes one percent of its employees’ time to corporate social responsibility and charitable endeavors.


By Frederic Lardinois

Drone startup Airware crashes, will shut down after raising $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.

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?”

“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. “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.”


By Josh Constine

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.


By Frederic Lardinois