AirMap, an airspace management platform for drones, is the latest drone company to land major investment to support explosive growth.
CA-based AirMap announced a $26 million Series B funding round led by Microsoft Ventures, with additional participation from Airbus Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures (the investment arm of Qualcomm Incorporated), Rakuten, Sony, Yuneec, and existing investors General Catalyst and Lux Capital. The new investment brings AirMap’s total funding to more than $43 million.
“The Series B funding round will bring AirMap’s airspace management platform and Unmanned aircraft Traffic Management (UTM) solutions to new markets worldwide, as AirMap opens offices in Berlin, Germany and at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California,” says the company’s press release.
“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,” said AirMap CEO Ben Marcus, who also serves as the industry co-chair for the FAA/industry Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team. “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.”
The list of investors in this latest round shows that the company is attracting not only financial support but industry partnership. The company claims that the AirMap platform “powers the vast majority of the world’s drones,” by providing operators with real-time airspace information and services. Certainly the platform has seen very wide adoption, and is embedded in drones produced by most of the global leaders in drone manufacturing, including DJI, Intel, senseFly, 3DR, and Aeryon Labs.
The company has also been instrumental in efforts to build UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) systems, a key component in full integration of drones into the airspace. It’s a complex problem of communications and data exchange: but AirMap reports that more than 125 airports use AirMap’s airspace management solution “to open surrounding airspace to drones, view past and current drone flights, accept digital flight notices, and communicate with drone operators.”
“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, 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.”
“As drone-based commercial services become more common, there is a growing need for airspace management technologies to ensure the safe and smooth operation of these services in low-altitude airspace,” commented Takashi Toraishi, president of the New Services Development Company of Rakuten, Inc. and responsible for the Sora Raku Rakuten Drone service. “AirMap’s platform, UTM solutions and regulatory expertise have made it a leader in the airspace management industry, and we believe the company will make a significant contribution to the development of commercial drone ecosystems around the world.”
AirMap grew fast in 2016, expanding its workforce to 50 employees and launching the AirMap developer platform, which opens the company’s library of APIs and SDKs to industry manufacturers and app developers, and the Digital Notice and Awareness System, the airspace management dashboard referenced above. Now, the company will require significant support from all of its partners and sure-footed leadership to negotiate the fast global growth they’ve outlined for the next year – but co-founders Ben Marcus and Gregory McNeal seem confident that they can meet the challenge.
“Whatever future you can imagine for drones – from package delivery to flying cars – we are confident that the drone industry has the potential to surpass even the most bullish predictions,” the team writes. “As regulations evolve, as technology improves, and as drones benefit our lives in ways we can’t imagine today – we at AirMap are singularly focused on ensuring that the future of drones is safe, connected, and collaborative.”
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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