Sky’s the limit for AI drone start-up Skydio after US$3m funding round

15 Jan 2015

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Ex-Google X researchers have united on a new project to build smarter drones, and they now have US$3m backing from Andreessen Horowitz and Accel Partners to do it.

Entrepreneur and investor Chris Dixon, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, announced via a blog post today, Thursday, that the VC firm is leading a US$3m finance round for Skydio, a start-up working on artificial intelligence systems for drones.

“The Skydio team is awesomely qualified,” wrote Dixon, tracing the company’s roots in drone vision systems at MIT and a drone project at Google X, Google’s semi-secret research facility.

Dixon vouches for the Skydio founders’ expertise in both aviation and computer science, and co-founder Adam Bry says he has been building things that fly since the age of five and, at 16, won his first national championship flying radio-controlled aerobatics.

Bry met Skydio CTO Abe Bachrach at MIT as part of a research group in GPS-denied flight which Bachrach led. They went on to become part of the Project Wing founding team at Google X but now, together with Matt Donahoe, they are the co-founders of Skydio.

Intelligent drones for wider use

Skydio’s mission is to create smart drones for a broad scope of applications, from cinematography to businesses monitoring their operations and infrastructure.

The problem with the drones that exist today is that they are ‘blind’, requiring a ground-based operator to control their flight. This results in a dangerous ecosystem where crashes abound and some drones even fly away – problems which Skydio aims to solve so that this sector can move forward.

As this is a contentious burgeoning industry, Dixon is also quick to note that safety and privacy regulations will be highly regarded by Skydio, so far as to bake these into the operating system.

Bry echoes Dixon’s concerns on the company blog. “A drone that’s aware of its surroundings is far easier to control, safer to operate, and more capable,” he wrote.

“Almost all the information a drone needs to be good at its job can be found in on-board video data; the challenge is extracting that information and making it useful for the task at hand. That challenge, and the incredible capabilities that are unlocked, are our focus.”

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.