Kyle Stanford April 28, 2016
On the same day PrecisionHawk raised $18 million for its mapping and data-analyzing drone system, SkySafe raised $3 million in seed funding as it looks to develop a product that will keep airspaces safe from the prying eyes of drones. PrecisionHawk is probably not a SkySafe target, as its technology is generally geared toward data for agriculture, oil & gas, forestry and other heavy commercial industries. But the advanced nature of the data highlights the need for a platform like SkySafe to be developed for more private industries, personal backyards and high-target areas (such as landmarks and governments buildings) that consumer drone systems are able to reach.
More than $550 million of VC was invested in drones and unmanned aerial vehicles in 2015, nearly 8x the total invested in the space just two years earlier, according to the PitchBook Platform. The increase is not surprising. Drones have become very popular among consumers, and the worldwide market for camera drones specifically is estimated to reach $21.5 billion by 2022, up from just $2 billion today. Investment in the space has been focused on relatively few companies. Just five drone startups have raised more than $50 million in total funding, but over each of the past few years, the industry has seen an exponential climb not only in invested capital, but also in the number of companies receiving funding. In 2015, 114 drone startups closed a VC round, 100 more than in 2012.
Along with the increase in drone usage, however, has come an increase in reported incidents involving drones and illegal activity, including drones flying dangerously close to airport runways, flying over the White House fence and delivering contraband to prison inmates. Not all incidents have been malicious, but drone cameras offer the inherent ability to turn any operator into a spy, even an accidental one. Attempts to quell these incidents, or at least capture the drones involved, have bordered on the ridiculous—drone-hunting eagles, for example.
It was only a matter of time before a tech company addressed the safety concerns of consumer-operated drones. SkySafe is developing a ground-based system designed to help track, intercept and disable drones that fly within its range. The company has been coy on its exact methods, but it reportedly uses radio waves to take control of a drone, even gaining the ability to fly it outside of the area of concern. The company is planning to launch its product in 2H this year to qualified public safety customers, presumably police forces and the like.
Much like drones themselves, a system like this is sure to cause controversy over the rights of citizens to fly drones and the government’s right to take them down. It may be needed, however, to help instill confidence in the public over privacy concerns, as well as to keep safe areas that could be hurt by drones flying overhead. As drone technology continues to advance and VC investment continues to rise in the space, expect more companies to address the safety and privacy concerns that have arisen.