Redwood City-based drone startup Skydio today revealed it raised $100 million, bringing its total raised to $170 million. Coinciding with the fundraising, Skydio unveiled a new family of drones — X2 — and software solutions designed to simplify inspections and enterprise-oriented workflows.
Skydio is the brainchild of Adam Bry, Abe Bachrach, and Matt Donahoe, the last of whom worked as a research assistant at MIT’s Media Lab. Bry and Bachrach — fellow MIT students in the college’s robotics program — spent years researching ways to build aircraft that could fly themselves without GPS, culminating in a fixed-wing autonomous drone. They later contributed to the Google X labs project that became Wing, which designs delivery drones deployed in parts of Australia, Finland, and Virginia. Years afterward, they set out to engineer a system that could power self-navigating drones using commodity hardware.
X2 follows the October 2019 launch of the Skydio 2 (production of which recently resumed), and it pairs the company’s autonomous navigation tech with a ruggedized airframe, folding arms, a thermal camera, and up to 35 minutes of flight time. X2 is equipped with six 4K navigation cameras for obstacle avoidance and a sensor payload that includes 12MP color and FLIR thermal cameras, and it will come with a new “enterprise-grade” Enterprise Controller with a built-in, glove-compatible touchscreen and a wireless system to extend the range up to 6.2 kilometers (3.8 miles).
Starting in Q4 2020, X2 will be available in two configurations:
- Skydio X2D, which is built to meet the Short-Range Reconnaissance (SRR) requirements for the U.S. Army. Skydio says it’s tailored to military, defense, search and rescue, and security patrol missions.
- Skydio X2E, which targets enterprises, first responders, and civilian agencies. The company says it’s designed for situational awareness and inspection of infrastructure.
The X2 might be perceived as a doubling down on Skydio’s controversial work with governments. As Wired reports, Skydio recently won a contract with the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the company has agency deals worth at least $7 million, including with the U.S. Air Force and Army. Law enforcement in Chula Vista, California, which last week won FAA approval to fly beyond an operator’s line of sight, also uses Skydio drones. And the company donated 50 drones to public safety agencies during the pandemic through its Emergency Response Program.
“Skydio is firmly committed to developing drone technology, and the rules that govern the use of drones, in a manner that protects privacy and civil liberties,” a spokesperson told VentureBeat last month in a statement. “In our work with government customers, Skydio highlights and promotes the bedrock obligation to uphold civil liberties — including the First Amendment freedom to peaceably assemble and petition for change. We stand with those demonstrating for justice and equality, and we condemn anyone — uniformed, elected, or otherwise — who seeks to bring them harm. We are committed to developing technology in a responsible manner that advances both safety and liberty.”
Like Skydio 2, the X2 will benefit from the company’s Autonomy Core, which handles navigation with 360-degree real-time obstacle avoidance, object detection, and motion prediction. Leveraging sophisticated computer vision and deep learning, Autonomy Core creates a 3D understanding of the drones’ surroundings in real time and dynamically controls the drone’s flight to avoid obstacles even in GPS-denied environments.
Both the X2 series and Skydio’s existing drones can be enhanced with the forthcoming Autonomy Enterprise Foundation, an aftermarket software upgrade that imbues Autonomy Core with pilot-assist capabilities like a 360-degree view with up to 100 times mixed thermal/RGB camera zoom (dubbed Superzoom), precision mode for flights within 0.5 meters of obstacles, and a vertical mode that captures images by looking straight up overhead.
Autonomy Enterprise Foundation’s other headliner is 3D Scan, a feature designed for inspections of industrial structures and locations including bridges, building facades, energy infrastructure, power plants, power stations, railyards, accidents, and crime scenes. Skydio says 3D Scan enables a fully automated, structure-agnostic process that doesn’t require any prior knowledge and can operate without an internet connection. Operators are able to specify an area, pick the desired imaging resolution, and 3D Scan does the rest, autonomously imaging surfaces by dynamically building a real-time map as the drone flies.
Autonomy Enterprise Foundation also boasts House Scan, which was developed in partnership with aerial imagery provider EagleView. When House Scan becomes available in Q4 2020, it will help home insurance agents automatically perform inspections of residential homes.
Skydio — whose customers include Civil Air Patrol, the Ohio Department of Transportation, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Southern Company, Chula Vista PD, and Japan Infrastructure Waymark — says it plans to use the aforementioned series C funding to accelerate product development and go-to-market expansion in enterprise and public sector markets. Next47 led the round with participation from Levitate Capital, NTT DOCOMO Ventures, and existing investors including Andreessen Horowitz, IVP, and Playground.
The company also announced three additions to its C-suite this week. Former Signalfx COO Mark Cranney will join as chief operating officer alongside Brendan Groves, Skydio’s new head of regulatory and policy affairs, who previously served as associate deputy attorney general at the Justice Department. Separately, Alberto Farronato, who formerly held positions at VMware and Mulesoft, has been appointed Skydio’s chief marketing officer.
“Manual drones lack the software intelligence that enterprises need to scale their programs,” Skydio CEO Adam Bry said in a statement. “Skydio’s goal is to unlock the value of drones by creating a radically simple user experience through the power of true autonomy. With Skydio 2, we’ve proven that our autonomy software can fundamentally change the way people use drones, and that an American company can not only compete, but can lead the way in AI-powered drone technology. We are now bringing the power of autonomy to enterprises, government agencies, first responders, and defense customers.”