Sky-Futures has received £2.5 million ($3.9 million) from MMC Ventures in the largest investment round to date for drone technology in Europe. Sky-Futures makes drones for inspection of oil and gas rigs. The London-based company provides drone inspection services in the Middle East, North Africa, the North Sea, and Southeast Asia. Sky-Futures co-founder James Harrison got the idea for using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) while serving with the British army in Iraq. It’s safer and quicker to send a UAS to inspect an onshore or offshore facility than to dangle a human for visual inspection.
According to TechCrunch, the U.K. has been more permissive than other nations in terms of commercial drone use, and a House of Lords report claimed that it could create 150,000 jobs in Europe by 2050. FAA Under Fire However, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is under pressure from Congress to relax restrictions on commercial drones. Sky-Futures was only the 47th drone company to get approval from the FAA, and it recently opened an office in Houston to expand into the Gulf of Mexico. The 30 clients so far for Sky-Futures’ services include BP, Conoco Phillips, Shell, and Statoil. Remotely piloted drones gather high-definition video, still images, and thermal imagery data. In-house experts in flare systems and structural engineering analyze that data with a proprietary system and then deliver technical reports to clients. Sky-Futures had sales of about $1.4 million in 2014.
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“Drone technology is an exciting area of innovation, but it?s only now that we are seeing leading commercial operators emerge,” said Simon Menashy, investment director at MMC Ventures. “Sky-Futures’ use of drone technology in the oil and gas market is world-leading and changes the game for platform operators in terms of cost, safety, and depth of data analysis.” The company was founded in 2009 and grew 700 percent in fiscal 2014, according to its Web site. Previous rounds of investment came from angel investors Nick Roberts, CEO of online fashion company ASOS Ltd., and Jon Kamaluddin, former international director of ASOS. International law firm Taylor Vinters LLP advised Sky-Futures in its Series A round of funding.