Once the domain of security companies and the military, drones are being used in a variety of civilian industries. A number of players have begun vying for a piece of the industry that is growing immensely with prospects for commercial and personal use.
Dronomy, one of the ten startups participating in Geektime Conference‘s Startup Arena pitch competition on Wednesday, is one of those firms trying to tap into the expanding market. Their goal is not a simple one: make accessible, autonomous, and eventually self-charging drones. The company was only founded this year and is still seeking out software engineers and computer vision experts for its staff. The hope is to let users pay attention to the drone’s actual purpose (filming crops for example) rather than busy itself with managing the flight.
“Dronomy develops ‘brains’ and ‘eyes’ for drones. With those, the drones can fly autonomously past different obstacles like trees, power lines and houses,” Co-Founder and CEO Ori Aphek tells Geektime. “Today, someone flying a drone to take pictures needs to worry about preventing a collision at the same time. Avoiding obstacles takes great skill and is the cause of most crashes.”
Dronomy brought in $1.5 million in Series A just last month to use toward product demonstrations and team expansions. The round was led by Battery Ventures with input from Lool Ventures and Oryzn Capital. They also reeled in investors Toivo Annus (formerly of Skype), Saul Klein, and former Skype CEO Josh Silverman.
“The product is in development, heading toward proof of concept. It’s designed for companies that market drone-based solutions for commercial applications, like inspecting bridges, mapping, construction, agriculture, and so on. Additionally, we are planning to integrate our drones’ abilities with the wider consumer market, for general photography or extreme sports photography for example,” he says.
Aphek explains the inspiration for the company came from his experience in Talpiot, comparing the more advanced abilities of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to the smaller and less tactical drones.
According to Aphek, “The IDF already had autonomous UAV capabilities back in the ’90s. But we were surprised to find out that drones were driven directly by manual controls. When they checked it out, they explained that physical obstacles were the main obstacle to autonomous flight.”
The industry has tremendous growth prospects. One report by research firm Frost & Sullivan projects an $11 billion industry.
However, the surge in civilian drones has some industrial growing pains. Two weeks ago, the FAA fined SkyPan $1.9 million, an industry record, for running 65 illegal flights over highly restricted metropolitan airspace. That being said, another research firm RNR sees the collision avoidance industry holding the largest segment by value in subsectors of the commercial drone market, even higher than automation and cybersecurity. That means major prospects for companies like Dronomy.
“Our competitors are the groups developing similar solutions in the civil and commercial drone markets. In the U.S., there is a small number of startups trying to solve the same problem, but we think our product is different architecturally and in terms of our focus in commercial markets. Dronomy produces a fully integrated physical and software package that enables communication with drones via our own user interface or that of a third party.”
The Tel Aviv-based company employs five people and was co-founded by CEO Ori Aphek and VP of R&D Guy Raz. Aphek is formerly the founder of Optigo and Raz also has a background in the IAF and Israeli intelligence.