This is the story of how an oil spill inspired a shift in direction and helped them garner investors such as Waze CEO Noam Bardin
Coming out of nearly two years of stealth mode, the Israeli automated drone platform from Airobotics is taking to the skies with an impressive announcement of $28.5 million in combined Series A and B funding.
Leading the initial charge on their Series A was BlueRun Ventures, which was followed up with Series B with CRV at the head of their Series B. The company has also received funding from Israel’s Chief Scientist’s Office, UpWest Labs, and influential private investors Noam Bardin, the CEO of Waze, and Google ATAP’s COO Richard Wooldridge.
In its new incarnation as Airobotics, the Petach Tikva-based company was co-founded in July 2014 by CEO Ran Krauss and VP of R&D Meir Kliner.
In its former life as the full service drone company Bladeworks, which was founded in 2012, they had worked with clients for cinematography-type projects. Their pivot to building a more robust platform came in 2014 when they recognized the great potential for using drones for industrial purposes.
How an oil spill inspired a shift in direction
Early on, they had an opportunity to test out their theory when in December 2014, there was a tragic oil spill in the Evrona oil field that leaked oil into a nature reserve. Working closely with the pipeline operator, the Airobotics team helped give the clean-up crew a bird’s eye view of the situation and understand where the spill was spreading, assisting them to craft a strategy of how to contain it.
Airobotic’s VP Business Development Yahel Nov tells Geektime that this event taught the company that if they were going to turn their focus to larger scale projects, then they would have to find ways to make it far more cost efficient.
One of the biggest costs he says are training and maintaining a qualified team of pilots. This led them to seek out alternative solutions, arriving at the product they are working with today.
The platform that they have developed is a fully automated drone system, capable of running preprogrammed missions, handling takeoffs and landings, switching out batteries and payloads, and providing diagnostics on the drones to make sure that everything is in working order.
Only requiring the user to set the mission, the drones can be used for running routine missions like monitoring or responding to alerts, or for use in on the fly inspections.
Equipped with cameras, the drones stream back to the monitoring stations’ real-time video to give teams a clear picture of the situation on the ground. Their backend software allows clients to pull actionable data out of the feeds, helping them to improve their decision making process.
Nov tells Geektime that their product is being used in three basic types of missions; mapping and surveying for cases like the oil spill; inspection of infrastructure and facilities such as in the mining and energy sectors; as well as security and emergency response where the drones can be harnessed with special sensors for detecting gas or even used for monitoring faces in a crowd with recognition software on the backend.
They have two ecosystems around the platform, bringing together the software and hardware. Their platform with the hardware gives them the ability to exchange payloads with the flexibility it provides, adding layers of additional software and hardware. “Our vision,” explains Nov, “is that we’d have this multitude of hardware and software that can be customized according to the client need.”
Nov adds that they can work with many existing industry-specific software programs. “This is a more efficient way to collect the data,” he says, especially when compared with sending humans out into the field. He says that their intention is to create a complete software suite for the client, giving them a full endpoint solution.
The advantages of this kind of system seem to be fairly obvious. Running inspections on industrial sites or infrastructure can be time consuming, and often mean having to shut down operations in order to ensure the safety of the workers. Using unpiloted drones, these inspections can run constantly, helping crews to catch problems early, not having to wait until the next planned inspection.
From a safety and security standpoint, if a fire crew is responding to an alert, they can improve their decision making by sending the faster drone in first to assess the situation before putting humans in harm’s way.
The obstacles Airobotics faces in the friendly skies
Airobotics seems to be well positioned in the automated drone space, already working with big clients, but the air is abuzz with the hum of competition. Singapore’s H3 Dynamics is also coming out with a drone platform that has the added benefit of working with solar power and fuel cells that lets clients theoretically leave them out in the field for long stretches of time.
It is important to explain that Airobotic’s solution is automated, and not autonomous. There is no AI flying through the drone through the air, which is a comforting thought at this point. The ability to keep the device on a planned path, avoiding people or other hazards is important. In the worst case scenario that they encounter a problem, the drones have parachute from their sister company ParaZero to bring it safely to earth.
Asked whether he thinks that we will be seeing a swarm of drones flying missions overhead any time soon, Nov makes the point that they work with clients on private property, and that the regulation for operating in public spaces is still too limiting for the time being.