(Reuters) – The enemy drone whined in the distance. The Interceptor, a drone-hunting machine from Silicon Valley startup Airspace Systems, slinked off its launch pad and dashed away in hot pursuit.
The hunter twisted through the air to avoid trees, homed in on its target, fired a Kevlar net to capture it, and then carried the rogue drone back to its base like a bald eagle with a kill.
Airspace is among some 70 companies working on counter-drone systems as small consumer and commercial drones proliferate. But unlike others, it aims to catch drones instead of disabling them or shooting them down.
A demonstration at Airspace headquarters in San Leandro, California, showed a compact aircraft just a few feet wide, yet capable of sophisticated, autonomous navigation and accurate targeting of a drone in motion.
It is still early days in the drone-defense business. Security professionals both public and private worry about dangerous drones at military sites, airports, data centers, and public venues like baseball stadiums. But counter-measures carry risk, too.
For example, the U.S. Air Force recently tested experimental shotgun shells for shooting down drones. But if the drone carries a payload like a bomb or chemical weapon, it could still fall on its target.
Jamming the radio signals to the drone does not always work, either. Drones differ from “remote-controlled” aircraft because they can fly to pre-set coordinates autonomously. The fastest drones can reach 150 miles per hour (240 km), too quick for human pilots flying another drone to catch.
The technical challenge of safely stopping a dangerous drone appealed to Guy Bar-Nahum, one of the inventors of the Apple iPod and the engineering brains behind Airspace Systems.
“We are creating a very primitive brain of an insect, a dragonfly,” Bar-Nahum said. “It wakes up, sees the world and doesn’t really know where it is. But it has goals to capture the other drone, and it’s planning a path in the world and knows how to move through the world.”
The Interceptor must pack computing power and sophisticated software into that tiny drone brain. Unlike the emerging driverless car, it has to understand its environment without the benefit of an internet connection to a massive mapping database.
“My background is in physics, and it’s all about modeling the world” with math, Bar-Nahum said. “What we do in this lowly startup that looks to be a normal, military ‘take ‘em down’ kind of company is build machines that can model the world.”
The business model is challenging too. Currently, only law enforcement officials have the authority to interfere with another drone’s flight. Regulations also require a certified pilot to stand ready to intervene in any commercial drone flight and keep a line-of-sight view of the aircraft.
Thus Airspace Systems will not be selling its aircraft, but rather leasing a system, complete with operators and a mobile command center, to customers.
The New York Mets have an interest in using the system to protect Citi Field in New York City, according to Sterling VC, the venture capital arm of Sterling Equities, which owns the stadium and also invested in Airspace.Detection and destruction
The danger from hostile drones became more clear in the last few months when the U.S. military said Islamic State fighters were using them to attack Iraqi troops in the battle over Mosul. The military news site Defense One reported ISIS was using an array of consumer-style drones, including an agile quadcopter version for dropping explosives.
At least 70 companies worldwide are working on various types of counter-drone systems, said Mike Blades, aerospace and defense analyst with Frost & Sullivan.
San Francisco-based Dedrone, for example, has raised $28 million in venture capital and is focused on detecting drone incursions. It now has about 200 customers, according to CEO and co-founder Joerg Lamprecht. Some are car companies looking to protect new designs from the automotive press and others are data center owners looking to keep drones from damaging critical rooftop cooling systems.
“Most of the market is going to be detection, something like a burglar alarm,” Lamprecht said.
DroneShield, an Australian company, also makes a detection system and has developed a prototype electronic jamming gun to ground a drone.
Airspace, backed by $5 million from Shasta Ventures and Sterling VC, hopes to bring its drone-capture system to market as early as this summer.
But Airspace’s approach has limitations. Chief among them: the Interceptor catches one drone at a time. To defend against multiple drones, Airspace must launch multiple machines.
“The swarm of drones is going to be the threat,” said Blades.
Beyond that, catching drones incurs expense and complication when simpler measures might do. Dedrone’s Lamprecht gives an example from a German customer that makes cars.
At its test track, the customer wanted to protect new car designs from drones’ prying eyes. When Dedrone detects an intrusion, the car’s driver hits a dashboard button to fire a fog bomb to obscure the car.
But James Bond-style diversions, or even forcing a drone down, may prove insufficient if a craft is hovering above a crowd with something dangerous, like an explosive or poison. In such a situation, capturing and carrying away the enemy drone may be the best option, even if it is complex and expensive.
For Airspace, perfecting a drone-hunting machine than can see – and chase – on its own is not as crazy as it may seem.
“This is an old ambition. You can read about it in Jules Verne or Aldous Huxley,” said Bar-Nahum. “That’s why autonomous movement is the next decade for me.”
(Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Mary Milliken)
Nvidia unveiled its Jetson TX2 platform to power drones with good artificial intelligence.
The platform includes the Jetson TX2 “embedded AI supercomputer,” a chip and its surrounding hardware that can power 4K video drones that consume only about 7.5 watts of power. Drones with the TX2 solution can operate two cameras simultaneously.
The Jetson 3.0 platform was designed for AI “at the edge” of the network, rather than in the cloud or an internet-connected data center. The challenge is that drones with cameras can capture a huge amount of data.
This means Jetson has to handle a lot of the processing of data at the edge, in the device itself, rather than transferring all of that data to the cloud, said Deepu Talla, vice president and general manager of Nvidia’s Tegra business unit, at a press event in San Francisco.
“Pretty much every industry we know is being transformed by AI,” he said. “We’ve seen an AI version of GO beat the world’s best human.”
Services are AI-powered too, with things like Amazon Alexa and OK, Google.
“All are adopting the Nvidia computing ecosystem,” Talla said.
Patrick Moorhead, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said the new platform uses Nvidia’s latest Parker-based Tegra chips and can deliver about double the performance of the previous generation of drone chips without increasing the amount of power used.Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
“Like a car, there are many applications that require a lot of compute power at the edge for machine learning and artificial intelligence,” Moorhead said. “Based on the quality of their partners, it shows Nvidia has a really good offering.”
That’s surprising, since most of Nvidia’s success has been in things like self-driving cars, he said.
GPU-based deep learning can crunch all of this data much faster than before. Nvidia’s GPU enhancements and software frameworks have helped improve AI by two orders of magnitude. Deep learning training used to take months. Now it takes days or hours.
Deploying neural networks usually happens in the cloud, going from a smartphone to a cloud. Nvidia’s Tesla can do AI inferencing in the data center.
But with Jetson, Nvidia is migrating AI to edge devices, like drones, that often have limited bandwidth, high latency, and a lack of wireless reception.
“For confidentially reasons, you don’t want to store a lot of data in the cloud,” Talla said.
Nvidia has partners such as Fanuc, Toyota, Starship, Cisco, and others. Nvidia makes it easy for them to adopt the tech with its Jetson software development kit, which sits on top of the Linux and the Tegra processors that Nvidia makes.
Cisco showed the Jetson platform working in a video conferencing display dubbed Spark. It allows for much more processing in the display before it sends the data across the internet to another video conferencing display in another location.
Teal, a Salt Lake City, Utah-based startup, showed a drone with the Jetson platform in it. The drone, also called Teal, uses deep learning software from a startup called Ziff to recognize images, such as people. It could be used in a search and rescue operation, flying over a wide territory and reporting back only when it identifies a possible human in a remote area. The drone will cost about $1,200.
Lowes is also using a Jetson-based robot from a company called Navii. The robot is used in stores to scan shelves to see what inventory needs to be replaced. It can also guide shoppers around to different products in the store, using voice recognition.
Nvidia launched its first Jetson platform about 18 months ago. Now the company is adding more AI capabilities on top of Jetson. The Jetson TX1 hardware can deliver 4K video decoding and other high-performance parallel computing tasks. But the Jetson TX2 hardware can double down on these tech capabilities.
The TX2 developer kit costs $600 at retail and $300 for education applications. It is available for preorder now in the U.S. and Europe and will ship in those territories on March 14. In April it will ship in Asia and other regions.
Rivals include Intel, which makes both chips and drones. Kevin Krewell, analyst at Tirias Research, said that Nvidia’s solution has wider flexibility and is likely targeted at more high-end solutions, while Intel targets both mid-range and high-end drones.
Talla said that there’s a good market opportunity at the high end of the market, where Nvidia plays. He added that while you pay more for solutions at the edge, you save on a lot on the data processing that happens in the data center because you are sending pre-processed information rather than raw data.
Airbus has proposed a new modular transportation idea mixing air and ground travel that will make you feel that the future cannot get here fast enough.
Unveiled today at the Geneva International Motor show, the system, dubbed “Pop.Up,” would start with a capsule that sits in the frame of an autonomous car. When traffic gets heavy, you just call a drone using your smartphone and lift the capsule up into the air and over the heads of those poor suckers stuck in traffic sucking on exhaust fumes.
The company says a new artificial intelligence platform will help manage the Pop.Up system, letting passengers optimize the mix of modalities for their trip.Image Credit: Airbus and Italdesign
“Adding the third dimension to seamless multi-modal transportation networks will without a doubt improve the way we live and how we get from A to B,” said Mathias Thomsen, general manager for Urban Air Mobility at Airbus, in a statement. “Successfully designing and implementing solutions that will work both in the air and on the ground requires a joint reflection on the part of both aerospace and automotive sectors, alongside collaboration with local government bodies for infrastructure and regulatory frameworks.”
Airbus designed the system in partnership with Italdesign, an Italian firm. Airbus executives had said earlier that they were working on some kind of flying car concept that would be unveiled this year. In general, there has been a surge of investment and pilot programs involving flying cars over the past year.
Airbus noted that the capsule was designed to work not just with the flying options, but with other public transport systems, including potentially a Hyperloop system.
According to the press release, the system would work like this:
Passengers plan their journey and book their trip via an easy-to-use app. The system automatically suggests the best transport solution — according to user knowledge, timing, traffic congestion, costs, ridesharing demands — joining either the air or ground module or other means of transportation to the passenger capsule, and following passengers’ preferences and needs.http://venturebeat.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/mry967k7_vn780c40_h264_2392K.mp4
The capsule is made of a monocoque carbon-fibre cocoon and measures 2.6 meters long, 1.4 meters high, and 1.5 meters wide. The ground module is a carbon-fibre chassis and is battery-powered.
In the air, the capsule would be carried using a 5-meter by 4.4-meter air module propelled by eight counter-rotating rotors. After dropping off passengers, all these vehicles would automatically return to charging stations.
There was no specific timetable given on the project.http://venturebeat.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/mry967k7_vn780c40_h264_2392K.mp4
“Today, automobiles are part of a much wider eco-system: If you want to design the urban vehicle of the future, the traditional car cannot alone be the solution for megacities, you also have to think about sustainable and intelligent infrastructure, apps, integration, power systems, urban planning, social aspects, and so on,” said Italdesign CEO Jörg Astalosch in a statement. “In the next years ground transportation will move to the next level and from being shared, connected and autonomous it will also go multimodal and moving into the third dimension.”
DJI is going after enterprise customers with big company-sized budgets.
Consumer drone fans, photographers, and cinematographers have flocked to the Chinese drone company for its Phantom and Inspire aerial vehicles. Now DJI is announcing a new line that’s not designed for consumers, photography, or film.
Instead, DJI says its enterprise drones — the Matrice 200 (or M200) series — were created for less flashy tasks: inspecting infrastructure (like cell towers), surveying construction sites, and public safety services (including search-and-rescue and forest fires).
“2017 is the year commercial drones go mainstream,” said a DJI spokesperson at the company’s New York office on Thursday. “I’m sure this isn’t the last enterprise drone you’ll see from us or other companies, but it’s the first that we’ve built. We’ll see what the market says, but we think it’s going to be a pretty strong contender.”
DJI hasn’t shared prices yet for the M200 Series, which launches sometime in the second quarter of 2017, but it won’t go cheap; DJI’s consumer drones start at $1,000.
If you’re looking for the future of mobile, it may be time to stop staring at the palm of your hand and look instead toward the open roads and sky.
On Monday, the ginormous trade show Mobile World Congress will open its 2017 edition in Barcelona where about 100,000 people are expected. While there will be the usual unveiling of select smartphones and tablets, MWC has dramatically increased the presence of drones and autonomous vehicles as it seeks to expand the concept of what we mean by the word “mobile.”
The event is dedicating almost an entire day each to vehicles — both connected and autonomous — and drones. In addition, the conference has added multiple sessions on artificial intelligence, both as it relates to vehicles and drones, as well as other mobile uses.
Of course, there will still be plenty of new smartphones unveiled at the show. Names like LG, Huawei, Moto, are all scheduled to make smartphone, tablet or smartwatch announcements, though many of the details have already leaked out.
But in general, it’s getting harder to impress with new hardware. Smartphone sales were decent last year, growing 5 percent from the previous year in terms of units, according to Gartner. But much of this growth is being driven by low-end, commodity smartphones. Even Apple, which doesn’t officially participate at MWC, saw its first annual decline in smartphone sales last year.
In its own post-mortem report on MWC 2016, conference organizers noted that smartphones released at the last show failed to sizzle.
“More than 40 smartphones were announced by over 20 global manufacturers during this year’s Mobile World Congress,” the report said. “Samsung, LG, Sony and others used the show as a platform to launch flagship products, but this year was largely underwhelming in terms of innovation.”
That has the mobile industry, once again, on the hunt for technology that will drive uses of networks, investment in blazing-fast 5G networks, and, of course, bigger profits. What’s the next big thing in mobile? The industry for several years has touted the Internet of Things, as it will do so again this year
Last year, the big splashy newcomer was virtual reality. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a surprise visit to the Samsung keynote to wax philosophically about his plans for Oculus and his vision for the future of VR. MWC will continue to hype VR, though sales of pricey headsets have been lackluster, and there’s growing doubt that mainstream audiences are ready for it. At MWC, visitors can still visit the AR/VR zone to see demonstrations of applications for architecture, sport, medicine, entertainment and gaming.
But drones are going to crash this party in a big way.
Drones aren’t entirely new to MWC. Last year Intel CEO Brian Krzanich demonstrated a drone on stage during his keynote. But that was mostly to highlight the need for the more robust connectivity that 5G networks would provide.
This year, the drones arrive on Sunday, normally a day of press briefings reserved for the biggest smartphone brands. This year, China’s DJI, the world’s largest drone company, is organizing its first major MWC press conference, tucked between Huawei and Samsung.
At the exhibition hall, MWC has added a Drone Zone, which will focus on commercial uses of drones. There will also be numerous Drone Cages, That will allow demos in the hall, flights will be streamed into a networking lounge, and there will be a viewing area to watch drone pilots in action.
Drone-mania will culminate on Thursday when the International Drone Expo holds a Drone Summit, a kind of mini-conference within MWC. The four hours of panels will cover the need for better connectivity, chips and regulatory challenges.
“There has never been more attention in the media regarding the growth of Drone Technology. Commercial Drones are set to change the face of Mobile Transport/Delivery, Agriculture, Infrastructure Inspection, Mining and Disaster Response,” MWC organizers said in an announcement.
LIkewise, discussions about the the cars and trucks of the future will be impossible to avoid. On Monday and Tuesday, there are several panels about the future of autonomous and connected vehicles that feature traditional players like Mercedes-Benz as well as upstarts like Uber’s Otto and its connected trucking kit.
Even before the show, Qualcomm and LG announced a 5G partnership designed to bring “cellular communications into vehicles. Bring 5G and Cellular-V2X Communications Into Vehicles
“The advanced wireless capabilities of 5G … will usher in new use cases necessary to fulfill our vision for increasingly connected and autonomous vehicles,” said Kim Jin-yong, executive vice president, VC Smart Business Unit, LG Electronics, in a statement. “As a leading inventor of 5G technologies and our key modem provider for telematics, Qualcomm Technologies is the company of choice for bringing the next-generation wireless solutions that leading automakers need and expect.”
Intel also highlighted the use of 5G for autonomous and connected vehicles in its pre-show announcements.
Among the discussion points during the numerous vehicle-related panels and keynotes at the show: What kind of connectivity is needed? What about security? And what are the opportunities? If the car truly becomes a platform, what services does that enable?
“Arguably, items like cars are becoming an extension of one’s home and office, wherein they listen to the same music, experience the same connectivity and comfort,” read the description for one session on Cars As A Service. “The implementation of technology allowing users to customize their shared car experience through music, car layout and even where they are located. The surge in self driving technology and the connected user will allow cars to provide a service entirely customized to the person riding it, their mood, time of day or even their destination.”
In many cases drones and autonomous vehicles share a common link in terms of their use of artificial intelligence. For that reason, and the growing uses of AI across the mobile landscape, MWC also added a heavy does of AI sessions this year. And it created an Robotics and AI Zone in the exhibition hall.
All this attention on AI, futuristic vehicles, and flying robots is no guarantee that any of these things will have a big impact. All one has to do is look at all those unsold VR headsets.
But it does raise the prospect that further down the road, when we’re flying our unmanned drones from the backset of our self-driving car, the notion that mobile once mostly centered around a little gadget we held in our hand is going to seem quaint.
AirMap, an airspace management platform for drones, raises $26 million from Microsoft, Qualcomm, others
AirMap, which provides an airspace management platform for drones, has raised $26 million in a Series B round led by Microsoft Ventures, with participation from Qualcomm Ventures, Airbus Ventures, Rakuten, Sony, Yuneec, General Catalyst, and Lux Capital.
Founded out of Santa Monica, Calif. in 2014, AirMap is just one of a number of players in the burgeoning drone industry. But while countless companies battle it out to own the airspace, others are working behind the scenes to manage the logistical and safety aspects of putting unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into the skies — and AirMap is one of the latter.
The startup touts itself as an airspace intelligence platform that creates the technology for developers and drone operators to ensure that their UAVs fly safely. Part of this involves enabling drones to communicate with each other. AirMap’s data and services are embedded into drones, ground control stations, and flight apps, and the company is already working with the likes of Intel, 3D Robotics, Aeryon Labs, and DJI. More than 125 airports also use AirMap’s airspace management dashboard, according to the company.
Prior to today, AirMap had raised around $17 million in funding, and with this latest cash injection it plans to “accelerate the global adoption” of its airspace management platform. But over and above the dollar amount, AirMap’s funding partners are of particular interest here.
While the likes of Amazon, Google, and Facebook have recently associated themselves with drone technology for various use-cases, Microsoft has been fairly quiet on the drone front. It does have a research project that it calls the Aerial Informatics and Robotics Platform, which is essentially a simulator-based environment that enables researchers to write code to control and train aerial robots — in fact, Microsoft recently open-sourced this system. The fact that Microsoft’s VC arm is now serving as lead investor in AirMap suggests that the company could be ready to ramp up its drone activities.
“AirMap is a leader in low-altitude airspace management and will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the drone industry,” said Nagraj Kashyap, corporate vice president of Microsoft Ventures. “We’re excited to support their growth and, by extension, the growth of commercial and recreational applications for both piloted and autonomous drones. We believe that by investing in companies like AirMap, Microsoft’s resources, platforms, and AI technologies can help fuel the future of the drone ecosystem.”
AirMap’s other investors are notable, too — Qualcomm is a major chipmaker with a recent history of partnering on drone projects. Airbus has demonstrated similar interest and recently announced plans to have a self-piloted car prototype ready by the end of 2017. Yuneec is a major Chinese aircraft manufacturer. Put simply, AirMap’s investors are arguably more important than the amount of money they’re plowing into the startup.
“The strategic partners participating in our Series B financing reflect the diversity of the drone ecosystem and the potential of drones to benefit every sector of our economy,” explained AirMap CEO Ben Marcus. “Very soon, millions of drones will fly billions of flights. This is a future that depends on safe, autonomous drone operations at scale. AirMap’s technology will make this future possible, allowing the drones of today, and the autonomous drones of tomorrow, to take flight.”
Drone technology is ripe for investment, with the likes of Boston-based deep learning startup Neurala recently raising $14 million for its Brains for Bots software development kit (SDK) that lets developers access AI smarts — including computer vision capabilities — that they can integrate into their products. And just last week, MassRobotics opened as a collaborative working space in Boston for robotics startups, including those focused on drones.
The surge in drones is partly attributable to a recent ruling by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which ushered in new regulations to bring simplicity to the growing drone industry. The new rules are aimed at “non-hobbyist” unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds, which covers many drones used by businesses. Recent estimates suggest that opening U.S. airspace to drones could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy over the next decade.Sign up for Funding Daily: Get the latest news in your inbox every weekday.
How does it sound to have a package “forcefully [propelled]” onto your porch from a hovering drone?
That’s the idea behind the new Amazon system that was awarded a patent this week. Instead of having the package delivery drone land in your yard, this system would eject the package from the flying drone, which could use “pneumatic actuators, electromagnets, spring coils, and parachutes [to] generate the force that establishes the vertical descent path of the package,” according to the patent filing published Tuesday.
Amazon claims this would save time and energy compared to having the drones land and take off again each time they deliver a parcel.
The drone could also help control the trajectory of the package to make sure it lands on target and not, say, in a tree. “The package can be equipped with one or more control surfaces,” the patent filing reads. “Instructions can be transmitted from the UAV via an RF module that cause the one or more controls surfaces to alter the vertical descent path of the package to avoid obstructions or to regain a stable orientation.”
Amazon has been testing drone deliveries already in the U.K., CNBC reports, and continues to apply for patents as it tests out the system.
This story originally appeared on Fortune.com. Copyright 2017
Counter-drone security firm Dedrone has raised $15 million in a second round of funding led by John Chambers, executive chairman and former CEO of Cisco, and Felicis Ventures.
The company makes software to detect drones in your air space and provide an early warning about someone snooping on your property.
The funding comes on the heels of Dedrone’s rapid expansion in the security market. The new capital will be used to increase marketing and sales efforts, as well as investing in global research and development. All of Dedrone’s series A investors are participating and providing funding for the new round.
Dedrone offers security solutions addressing airspace vulnerabilities exploited by the advances in consumer and commercial drone technology. Dedrone’s software platform, detects aerial intrusions, and provides early warning of malicious drone activities. It is being used to protect data centers, prisons, airports, and other critical facilities from corporate espionage, smuggling, terrorism, and hacking.Image Credit: Dedrone
Led by CEO and cofounder Jörg Lamprecht, the company was established in 2014; it’s headquartered in San Francisco, with production and R&D in Kassel, Germany.
“Drones have given people the ability to go places where they have never been before and at times, circumnavigate traditional physical and cyber security installations,” said Chambers, in a statement. “Dedrone’s unique approach to use existing sensors and a powerful machine learning platform empowers enterprise and federal customers to re-gain control of their airspace. I believe Joerg and the Dedrone team are positioned to lead, and it’s an honor to be a part of their team.”
Dedrone said it has added new international resellers, including Airbus, Singtel, and Deutsche Telekom. It has already secured over 200 installations in 2016, with notable customers including the 2016 U.S. presidential debates, the Suffolk County prison in New York, the Royal Family of Qatar, and the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The company’s investors include Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks; Selina Lo, CEO of Ruckus Wireless; Hans Robertson, cofounder of Meraki; Tom Noonan, former chairman, president, and CEO of Internet Security Systems; and Trevor Healy, former CEO of Jajah and Amobee.
“The Dedrone team has experienced tremendous growth in the past year, and we’re thrilled to partner with such reputable organizations and partners, including John Chambers and Felicis Ventures,” Lamprecht said in a statement. “I’m very proud of our team of world-class innovators and engineers, who are committed every day to build this business and advance the security market’s understanding of the risks associated with drone operations. Together with our partners, we’re making massive strides in providing businesses and individuals a complete detection and counterdrone solution for high-risk areas.”
Aydin Senkut, founder and managing director of Felicis Ventures, said in a statement, “We invested in Dedrone because we believe drone security will be a top priority for both businesses and governments around the world for many years to come. Dedrone’s drone detection capabilities are far superior to any other company we have seen in the market, and their incredible team has quickly established themselves as the leader in this fast-growing space, as evident by the stellar roster of clients they built in a short time. We were really impressed by the technology, team, customers and potential market for Dedrone; it’s normal for us to get excited about just one or two of those factors but much rarer to find all in one company.”
Cofounders include René Seeber and Ingo Seebach.
Lying in general is a bad idea, but lying to your would-be customers is an especially awful thing to do. That’s the lesson allegedly being learned by Lily Robotics, which, at the end of January, was raided by San Francisco police as part of a potential criminal investigation.
Let’s back up. Why is the SFPD raiding the headquarters of a robotics company? It’s been a long, strange road, but let’s go back to the beginning.What went wrong?
In 2016, Lily Robotics took more than 60,000 preorders for an upcoming product — preorders valued at more than $34 million. Naturally, these customers expected the product to be delivered within the specified time frame and to work as depicted in the company’s promotional videos.
Lily Drone had generated a wave of positive press because it promised to be a no-nonsense, easy-to-use drone that required little experience with technology and not much effort to set up. The drone was also eagerly anticipated due to a unique feature known as “auto-follow,” which is exactly what it sounds like: You could simply send the drone into the air, and it would follow you autonomously, shooting footage as you go. A small handheld tracker would continue to draw the drone toward you as you went about your activities.
The company also promised rugged construction, even going so far as to claim the drone would be waterproof, which would further set it apart from other commercially available drones. Between the waterproofing claims, auto-follow, and throw-and-go, which would have allowed customers to simply throw Lily Drone into the air to activate it, it was shaping up to be an intriguing product, even in the burgeoning Wild West atmosphere of the drone market.
Unfortunately, with waiting customers growing restless, on Jan. 12, 2017 things finally came to a head. Authorities raided Lily Drone’s San Francisco headquarters in preparation for a criminal investigation, alleging the company had lied to customers, in addition to slipping past the promised delivery date.Why get police involved?
The story of Lily Drone turns tragic on two fronts. The first was a lack of funding. Despite raising about $34 million by taking preorders, the company was eventually forced to email customers with a notice that their money would be refunded. Manufacturing and shipping a product this complex is expensive, and the company simply ran out of money to do so.
That would have been a familiar story — we’ve all heard of failed startups and wildly successful crowdfunding campaigns that never get an actual product off the ground. However, the company is also accused of directly lying to customers about Lily Drone’s capabilities.
Allegedly, in the promotional video touting the drone’s unique capabilities, the company used footage shot not on Lily Drone prototypes, but on an existing product — a much pricier, camera-equipped drone from an unaffiliated company. The suit brought against Lily Drone alleges the company deliberately misled their customers. Company founders Antoine Balaresque and Henry Bradlow are supposed to have been present at the filming themselves. The two met at UC Berkeley as engineering students.
Moreover, the two were found to have discussed the problem well before the video shoot even took place: Emails had been exchanged between CEO Balaresque and the third-party filmmaker they’d tapped to help make the promotional film. The emails leave little to the imagination. Wrote Balaresque: “I am worried that a lens geek could study our images up close and detect the unique GoPro lens format … I think we should be extremely careful it we decide to lie publicly.”An exciting concept wasted
When we hear about companies misleading their customers willingly — and take your pick, because this has been a common refrain lately, from Energy Transfer Partners and Theranos to Wells Fargo and Volkswagen — it’s a disappointing thing. It’s slightly less common to hear this kind of story from smaller startups, but Lily Drone’s tale nonetheless is a reminder to always be on your guard, whether the company you’re dealing with is large or small.
Had it come to market, Lily Drone would have carried a price tag of between $499 and $899, depending on the type of drone preordered. That might sound like a lot, but it was supposed to be packing some fairly impressive technology on board its compact design.
The implications for the concept were definitely interesting and could have impacted a number of industries far beyond consumer tech. The drone was to be largely autonomous and nearly effortless to pilot, unlike remote control vehicles (RCVs), which require a great deal of training to do something as simple as extend their arms and manipulate objects. But Lily Drone could have followed human counterparts into dangerous surroundings and provided a constant link back to safety, all without a pilot or expensive and time-consuming pilot training.
Eventually, somebody else will get there. Lily Drone may have squandered its chance at delivering this exciting new type of drone technology, but it’s only a matter of time before one of its would-be competitors releases an auto-follow drone of their own to fill this rather distinctive niche.
It’s all part of a virtuous cycle, according to Anil Nanduri, vice president in the new technology group and general manager of Intel’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The world’s biggest chip maker has moved beyond chips to focus on great outdoor experiences for users.
And drones are a good market because they use a lot of technology, including Intel’s RealSense depth cameras, and they produce an enormous amount of data. That data keeps the servers in data centers humming, and that creates more demand for Intel’s processors.
Nanduri is in charge of keeping that virtuous cycle going, and I talked with him about that, and more.
Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.Image Credit: Intel
VentureBeat: How did you get into the drone field?
Anil Nanduri: When we started with RealSense, we were working on PCs and tablets. We were trying to see how we could change the computing interface with gestures and other use cases. As we were exploring, we had two versions of RealSense cameras: one, the front-facing, was primarily for PC interaction, and then we had the world-facing, which we designed for tablets. That can see further away. The world-facing camera, which was depth-sensing, also had the ability to work outdoors.
Then we said, “Wait a minute. This depth-sensing camera could be used in other fields besides PCs and tablets. How do we apply that?” The use cases around scanning for printing, or robotics for collision avoidance, or drones for collision avoidance — that’s what the ideation triggered. Where could we apply this beyond PCs?
It was part of that exercise, looking at RealSense capabilities beyond PCs and tablets, that got me into drones. How do we apply this in a flying platform? If you recall, at CES 2015 we had two demos on stage. One was a media conferencing robot navigating using RealSense. The other was a drone with six RealSense cameras.
VB: To step back a bit, what was the thinking around going into drones at all? Intel is historically an ingredient-maker, a chip maker. This is making this whole dish. You guys don’t make that move in every case where your chips are used.
Nanduri: We’re part of Intel’s New Technology Group. This was formed to scope out new opportunities and new markets and different ways we could operate within that domain. We’re not held to any kind of engagement model where we only have to do ingredients. We have that ability to innovate.
When it came to drones, we started with the RealSense technology. We worked with Yuneec in the consumer industry and got RealSense collision avoidance in the Typhoon H drone, which is more of a pro-sumer standpoint. We made some acquisitions as well — Ascending Technologies, and later MAVinci. What we realized is that we own some amazing technology now, including full commercial-grade systems. These had very high redundancies built into them, very accurate, high-precision systems. For commercial applications, like construction inspection, where you need high accuracy reconstruction of your point of interest, these systems were deployed and widely used — not in the U.S., but in Europe and other markets. For enterprise use cases and commercial use cases, the capabilities that are needed come to be much more rigid.
We said, “Hey, we have a good value proposition here. There’s great demand in this space. Why should we be encumbered by history?” This was a completely green field.
VB: If you have a mastery of the technology already, it makes sense.
Nanduri: Right. The other part of it, even though Intel’s model has been traditionally making ingredients — you know very well that we’ve done a lot of system development, even up to PCs. We develop a lot of capabilities. We just don’t productize them. We have the knowledge to build things end to end, so we took the extra step to brand it and sell it as well. That know-how, building end-to-end systems, is very instrumental in pushing the technology and innovation forward.Image Credit: Intel
VB: Brian has mentioned this before, that these are not just things that use Intel’s chips. They’re also products that generate an enormous amount of data.
Nanduri: Correct. That’s where it connects to our virtuous cycle. Each drone flight, depending on the payload you’re using and a rough map, each frame that you’re capturing with a high-resolution sensor or camera is about 25 megabytes. If you take 200 images, that’s five gigabytes. If you take 2,000 images, it’s 50 gigabytes. That’s one flight. These are the standard file sizes you deal with in the space. Then you have the processing behind it, applying tools and software that need a lot more compute.
It clearly fits into our virtuous cycle, the next set of machines that are going to be generating huge amounts of data: autonomous cars, robotics, virtual reality. Drones fit into the domain of huge data sets beyond what consumers can typically generate.
VB: Having data itself is considered a good thing or a priority these days, as far as making good use of all the servers out there in the data centers.
Nanduri: Right. But the workflows are different, how you apply them and deploy them. It’s good to have an end-to-end understanding of the workflow. These are new use cases. We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg right now in how they can be applied. Talking about bridge inspections — there are more than 600,000 bridges out there in the United States. Think about manpower and individual safety. It’s dangerous to put all those folks out there on cherry pickers or harnesses. These machines can do the work more quickly and reliably. They can automate it in easier ways. The value prop becomes a no-brainer at that point.
If people look at how inspections are done today, people literally climb towers on harnesses, sitting there doing visual inspection. You don’t need to do that anymore. You still need to send people in to fix things, maybe, you can reduce the number of times a person has to go up there, and you can inspect more often. The later you find a problem, the more expensive it is to fix. You can build a database to create those inspection reports more often, and then analyze and use compute to check for inspection issues earlier. Today you can’t do it as often because it’s expensive and unsafe. With drones you can do it more often, and at a fraction of the cost.
The question, then, is how do we get there? What needs to happen to have that become a widespread use of drones day to day?1 2 3 View All Continue Reading ...
The camera maker pulled its drone model from shelves in early November, after the Karma first went on sale Oct. 23, because a few of the quadcopters “lost power during operation,” the company said at the time. GoPro said the problem was a faulty battery latch that could cause the batteries to lose connection mid-flight.
“To clarify, this Karma is the same Karma that launched last year — to the naked eye,” GoPro said in its press release Wednesday. “If you break the construction down, you’d see that we’ve redesigned the battery latch.”
GoPro touts the Karma as an easy way to obtain “Hollywood-caliber footage” from a drone, due to its stabilizer system. The company offered full refunds for all of the roughly 2,500 drones customers had purchased.
Now, the price is still $799 for a drone with no camera or $1,099 with one (and GoPro is offering a model without a stabilizer for $599, as they recently started selling the stabilizer separately). The Karma is currently available on the GoPro website or from retailers like Best Buy and Amazon.
GoPro reported a nearly 40 percent plummet in third-quarter revenue in November, and is expected to announce its fourth-quarter performance shortly.
This story originally appeared on Fortune.com. Copyright 2017
“We don’t make drones. We make drones work,” proclaims Washington, DC-based Measure, a startup that’s setting out to help enterprises set up their own drone programs.
Founded in 2014, Measure is a “drone-as-a-service” startup that works with companies in specific sectors to figure out how they can best use data acquired by drones. These sectors include oil and gas, agriculture, insurance, government, and other industries where aerial photography is desired. Measure’s service is designed to help businesses leverage the power of drones without committing to the capital expenses and risks involved with setting up their own drone programs.
Today, Measure has announced a $15 million funding round from Cognizant Technology Solutions, with participation from existing investors. This is added to the $5 million it raised back in September 2015. The fresh cash injection will be used to expand the company’s services and target new customers.
“This is a tremendous moment for Measure and for the drone industry, and we believe 2017 is when everyone pivots toward services,” said Brandon Torres Declet, CEO of Measure. “Not only will this investment make it possible to expand to new customers, but the addition of Cognizant can help us offer new, innovative services around data analysis not currently available in the market.”
Commercial drones typically garner headlines for their ability to deliver items. For example, Amazon recently delivered its first package by air drone, while 7-Eleven partnered with drone delivery service Flirtey to complete what it called “the first fully autonomous drone delivery to a customer’s residence,” in July last year. And a few months back, drone startup Zipline raised $25 million to deliver blood, vaccines, and other medical goods to hard-to-reach locales.
But deliveries are only one facet of the emerging drone industry — drones’ ability to capture data is also emerging as a key use-case. California-based Prenav raised $6.5 million back in August to develop a commercial drone system that enables companies to inspect and maintain their physical infrastructure, including buildings, roofs, cell phone towers, and other hard-to-access places. But it’s not just about aerial drones — fellow California startup Saildrone raised $14 million to expand its fleet of wind-powered autonomous seafaring drones that collect data from the world’s oceans.
Elsewhere, San Francisco-based DroneDeploy recently nabbed $20 million for its software-as-a-service platform that helps businesses analyze and make sense of their aerial drone data. And Santa Monica’s DroneBase raised around $7 million last year to grow its platform that lets drone owners sell footage they capture to businesses.
The surge in drone-focused funding is at least partly attributable to a ruling by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which recently introduced new regulations designed to bring clarity, simplicity, and safety to the growing drone industry. The new rules are aimed at “non-hobbyist” unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds, which basically covers the drones used by many businesses offering drone services. Some estimates have pegged this opening of U.S. airspace to unmanned aircraft as potentially being able to generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy over the next 10 years.
In 2016 alone, Measure says that its drone pilots flew more than 1,100 flights for “some of the largest and most innovative Fortune 1000 companies,” covering construction development, live media coverage, disaster response, and cell tower inspections.
“Drone services is one of the fastest-growing technology segments, with many [services] promising immense value to industries such as insurance, manufacturing, logistics, oil and gas, retail, government, and media and communications,” said Sean Middleton, president of the Cognizant Accelerator, of which Cognizant Ventures is a division. “Cognizant is excited to partner with Measure to bring our world-class digital capabilities, such as advanced data analytics and software development, to enterprise customers looking to create value from data collected via drones.”Sign up for Funding Daily: Get the latest news in your inbox every weekday.
We’re living in a selfie world, and anything that helps us take more selfies is sure to make a mint.
Drone makers seem to have figured out that, instead of taking pictures of our neighbors’ backyards, what we really want to do is find new ways to take pictures of ourselves.
You may laugh. But the drone makers aren’t dumb. At CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas last week, there were 39 exhibitors in the Drones Marketplace, up 56 percent from a year earlier. I walked through the marketplace, which had an incessant buzzing noise.
Drones are expected to generate $1.2 billion in revenue in 2017, up 46 percent, according to Shawn Dubravac, chief economist at the Consumer Technology Association, the trade group that puts on CES. Unit sales of drones are expected to hit 3.4 million units, up 40 percent.
I came across a woman in a cage at the Hover Camera booth. She had a chirpy voice and went on to describe the Hover Camera Passport, “your foldable, self-flying personal photographer.” You can simply press a button and toss it up, and it flies. It automatically recognizes your face and follows you around, tracking your movements based on the location of your phone.
The Hover Camera Passport can take close-ups or pull out. It can record 4K video or take 13-megapixel still photos. The $600 drone itself has a cage that protects you in case it collides with you. The protective cage also stops the rotors from getting damaged.Image Credit: Keyshare
Keyshare Technology also debuted its Kimon selfie drone at CES. The Kimon is easy to use, portable, has a replaceable battery, and is capable of taking quality photos with a high-definition camera. All of its features are tailored to provide a great selfie-taking experience, including a 16-megapixel camera that supports 4K 25 frames per second video recording. You can control it with a smartphone app that has one-touch takeoff, hovering, landing, and return maneuvers. It sells for $400 and operates for 15 minutes on a charge.
Polaroid also created four selfie drones, ranging from $60 to $270. These drones can do 720p or 1080p high-definition video streaming. There was another $400 selfie drone, the Rova, which only weighs about half a pound.Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
And if you seriously want to do something different, you can get the PowerVision PowerRay, which was being hawked by a woman dressed as a mermaid. This drone swims underwater, and it has a 12-megapixel camera that you can control with a smartphone from above. OK, it’s not really meant for underwater selfies. It’s actually more like a fish finder. But if you are scuba diving, you can probably get it to take pictures of your undersea adventures.
2016 taught us a lot about drones and their potential to deliver benefits for consumers, communities, and businesses alike. Google and Chipotle tested burrito delivery on the campus of Virginia Tech, while cities nationwide turned to drones to help first responders, inspect bridges and roads, and monitor construction sites. We witnessed the launch of innovative products from Intel, Yuneec, DJI, Sensefly, and others — not to mention GoPro’s first drone. Through it all, we experienced changes in FAA regulations and the advent of Part 107, which has opened the skies for drone commerce, making once experimental drone operations completely routine.
And we’ve only scratched the surface. In 2017, we’re going to see drones come to the forefront of business, tech, and our daily lives. Let’s talk about what drones have in store for us next year.Follow the money … away from venture capital
We’ll see VC investment in drones decline in 2017, but that doesn’t mean total investment will slow. Expect large enterprises like telecom companies and large consumer electronics brands to begin investing more seriously in the drone space — along with increased M&A activity and more strategic partnerships. More drone companies will prove they can generate revenue and will attract partners who can help them accelerate.Big players will get into the game
Logistics companies like Amazon and DHL will start to put more and more drones in the air. Traditional retailers that have been developing drone strategies behind closed doors will announce their ideas for innovation and implementation, heating up the marketplace. Cloud players and corporate giants (think IBM or GE) will stake out expanded drone positions with long-term impacts for the entire industry. And Uber, after publishing its flying car white paper earlier this year, will convene its first “Elevate Summit” in 2017, bringing together a community of stakeholders that is looking to low-altitude airspace, not our roadways, for the future of mobility.It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s 20,000 drones!
Today, we commonly see about 5,000 drones flying simultaneously around the world. With large consumer electronics, logistics, and telecom companies making major plays in the drone ecosystem, I predict that by the end of the year, that number will reach 20,000 simultaneous drone flights worldwide. That would represent a 400 percent increase next year.Smart cities get even smarter
Many cities with “smart” inclinations are already considering what transportation and infrastructure will look like in 20, 50, and even 100 years — and are planning accordingly. These “smart government”-minded cities are investigating how unmanned aircraft could affect this future, and in 2017, we’ll see them make moves to establish themselves as top places for drones to do business. Next year, smart cities will invest in civic drone technology to be adopted by fire departments, police departments, and local administrators. And we might even see competition among the most connected cities as they try to attract the first drone deliveries to their communities.Drones will be easier to buy and fly — and safer than ever
Prices for drones will continue coming down, even for drones with sophisticated features. The experience of flying a drone will become easier, especially as autonomous flight capabilities improve.
In 2017, the drone industry will build tools to help drones and their operators make accurate risk assessments, which can be used to identify safe flight plans, prevent accidents, and make drone flight even safer. In the U.S., we should see significant advancements on the road to Unmanned Traffic Management (the public-private partnership that will enable air traffic control and data exchange for millions of drones). Abroad, I expect we’ll see other countries open the skies for more automated flight beyond visual line of sight.The bottom line: 2017 is the year of the drone
Whether we’re talking about who’s paying for them, who’s buying them, or how they are being used, drones will be pushed to the forefront of cultural, political, commercial, and consumer conversations in 2017. A shifting adoption landscape combined with new sources of funding and advanced improvements in technology should make 2017 a monumental year for the drone. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Ben Marcus is cofounder and CEO of AirMap, an airspace management platform for UAS. He was previously cofounder and CEO of jetAVIVA and served as a flight test engineer for Eclipse Aviation. He is an FAA-certified Airline Transport Pilot and Flight Instructor with flight experience in more than 100 aircraft types and ratings in seaplanes, gliders, helicopters, and six types of jets. He is also a certificated Remote Pilot. He serves on the board of Angel Flight West, a non-profit organization that arranges free air transport in response to health care needs, and he flies volunteer missions for animal rescue groups Pilots N Paws and Wings of Rescue.
Amazon might soon take flight in more ways than one.
The e-commerce giant has been awarded a patent that describes a logistics technology it calls “airborne fulfillment center (AFC).” The AFC is essentially in airship that’s capable of flying at altitudes of 45,000 feet or more that would house items the company sells through its online marketplace. In the patent, Amazon describes a method by which drones would fly into the warehouse, pick up the items they need to deliver, and then deliver those items to the customer’s home.
Amazon filed for the patent in 2014. While it was actually awarded in April, it wasn’t discovered until Wednesday by CB Insights tech analyst Zoe Leavitt.
Over the last few years, Amazon has been working on drone technology through its Prime Air initiative with an aim on delivering products to customer homes without relying upon logistics companies to do it. Earlier this month, Amazon successfully completed its first drone delivery in the U.K. The company plans to expand its drone testing in 2017 in hopes of eventually relying on the unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver lightweight packages to homes.
Currently, Amazon’s drone-delivery process requires the company to erect a warehouse to serve a particular area. Inside that warehouse is a selection of lightweight products the company sells through its e-marketplace. Once a customer places an order, those items are packaged in a box the drone can carry. The drone is then outfitted with the package and delivers it to a customer’s home within 30 minutes.
The potential pitfall with drones, however, is that they can only travel so far, so Amazon would technically need to erect a large number of warehouses around the world just to accommodate customers in disparate areas.
But rather than look to the ground for fulfillment centers, Amazon is apparently looking to the sky. Like their grounded alternatives, the AFCs would be home to an inventory of items Amazon sells through its online marketplace, according to the patent. New items would be added to the AFC with help from a logistics shuttle that would carry products to and from the device. When an order is placed, a drone would be outfitted with the desired products and descend from the airship. It would then deliver the items to the customer.
Since the drones that Amazon is testing can’t get up to heights as high as 45,000 feet, the company says its used drones will fly back to a ground installation, where they’ll be placed in a shuttle and brought back to the AFC.
Amazon says the AFC concept could be a boon for handling its logistics, and pointed to its ability to move around in anticipation of demand as one of its benefits.
“The use of an AFC and shuttles also provides another benefit in that the AFC can remain airborne for extended periods of time,” the company wrote in its patent description. “In addition, because the AFC is airborne, it is not limited to a fixed location like a traditional ground based materials handling facility. In contrast, it can navigate to different areas depending on a variety of factors, such as weather, expected demand, and/or actual demand.”
For its part, Amazon hasn’t commented on the patent and did not immediately respond to a Fortune request for comment. And like other companies, Amazon often files for patents on technologies it might never bring to the market. But it’s possible that one day, Amazon drones—and airships—will be flying above, delivering products to folks around the globe.
This story originally appeared on Fortune.com. Copyright 2016