Geo Week News

September 26, 2013

California UAV maker nets $30 mil' investment


3D Robotics to use funds for expanding crop mapping, aerial survey apps

3D Robotics, a manufacturer of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) company for commercial applications, said Thursday it received $30 million in a recent financing round to help it mainstream aerial robotics and surveying.

The privately held, San Diego-based company, which provides autonomous navigation and sensing solutions to customers using land, sea or air based vehicles, said it will use the funds to expand its development and deployment of advanced UAV applications, with a focus on agricultural crop mapping and other commercial aerial survey applications.

“The opportunity to bring ‘big data’ to agriculture through low-cost automated aerial crop surveys could be a game-changer for both farming and the UAV industry alike,” said Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics. “Adding UAVs to the precision agriculture toolkit of a 21st-century farmer gives them the power to use imaging data to not only increase yield, but decrease water use and the chemical load in both food and environment.”

The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) has a legislative mandate to develop and implement operational and certification requirements for the operation of public UAVs in the nation’s airspace by Dec. 31, 2015.

Numerous applications of UAVs are expected to bring big benefits to the private sector, including aerial imaging, oil and gas exploration, law enforcement and border patrol, wildfire mapping, weather monitoring, and disaster management.

Another innovative application would be hyper-local delivery, where local stores can cost-effectively deliver food or medicine or other products to customers using UAVs. The machines can also be used as persistent cameras for making movies or at sports venues.

Congress acts on privacy concerns

But broadening the use of UAVs also presents the FAA with significant challenges, particularly the risk they pose to individuals’ privacy.

That’s according to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, which recently passed legislative language requiring the FAA to complete a detailed report on developing a “more comprehensive approach to privacy” before the agency can spend any funds on UAV implementation.

The committee is questioning whether current laws offer sufficient protections to adequately protect individuals. If the legislation passes, it will jeopardize the December 2015 deadline.

The Series B financing round was co-led by Foundry Group, a new investor, and existing investor True Ventures, along with participation from existing investors O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and SK Ventures.

3D Robotics said its large community of users and open source developers make it the industry’s leading open UAV software platform, called APM, and is now extending that to a new generation of autopilots, software and ready-to-fly multicopter and fixed-wing UAVs.

3D Robotic also announced Thursday its most powerful autopilot software platform to date, Pixhawk, will ship in October. The new 32-bit open autopilot is designed for improved ease of use and reliability while boosting safety features. It was created in collaboration with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology’s PX4 team, one of the world’s leading UAV research institutions.

The company recently debuted Iris, its first ready-to-fly, fully-autonomous quadcopter for the consumer market. The lightweight vehicle can conduct hands-off missions and record high definition aerial video, bringing pro-level UAV features at a sub-$1,000 price. Iris is now shipping to developers, with consumer sales to begin in November.

New 3DR Iris quadcopter controlled just with smartphone or tablet

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