December 02, 2015      

The flock of drones in the sky is still growing, as three diverse drone startups have gained investor support.

Aerial drone provider Aeryon Labs Inc. recently closed a $60 million Series A round of funding from Boston-based Summit Partners LLP.

Aeryon was founded in 2006. The Waterloo, Ontario-based company sells the SkyRanger small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) and a series of cameras for commercial, public-safety, and military and government applications.

Small drones are useful for utility inspection, journalism, surveying, and reconnaissance, said Aeryon, which has chosen not to focus on the consumer and hobbyist market.

“This is a significant milestone for Aeryon Labs,” said Dave Kroetsch, the company’s president and CEO. “It validates our technical lead in the market and our ‘aviation, not recreation’ approach to building sUASes, which is quickly making Aeryon a first choice for utility inspectors, first responders, and soldiers in the most demanding operational environments.”

For instance, Aeryon Labs is partnering with Microsoft Corp. on the Advanced Patrol Platform, which will include SkyRanger for police acquisition of real-time aerial imagery. The images can help reconstruct traffic accidents.

Aeryon sent three of its drones, which cost $60,000 to $200,000 each, to assist the relief effort after this past spring’s earthquake in Nepal.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration granted a Section 333 exemption to Southern Company Services Inc. to use the Aeryon SkyRanger to inspect power lines. Aeryon already compied with Transport Canada’s requirements.

In addition, Deloitte Technology’s Fast 50 program recognized Aeryon as a leader in the Canadian technology industry. The company plans to double its staff to 200 employees.

“In the last four years, we have grown 100 percent year over year in terms of sales, and we’ve been profitable too,” said Kroetsch. “We now expect that to move into the 200 percent sales growth range over the next couple of years.”

Industry analysts predict that the global sUAS market will grow to $6 billion by 2020, according to Aeryon.

Chinese consumer drones get capital

On the consumer and hobbyist side, Flypro Aerospace Tech Co. last week completed its Series A round of funding with $13 million from Yihua Capital.

Shenzhen, China-based Flypro‘s offerings include the PX400 auto-tracking unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and the XEagle, which can be controlled via smartwatch.

“Flypro, created to serve the hobbyist community, focusing on simple yet intelligent controls, an interesting user experience, and cost-efficient high-quality products, is expected become the barometer for and the leader of the intelligent sports drone segment,” claimed CEO Lin Hai.

Add-on advances for drone inspections

Ann Arbor, Mich.-based SkySpecs Inc. has raised $3 million in equity funding. It has raised a total of $4.3 million so far.

The company was founded in 2012 by four University of Michigan students. It originally developed a drone but has since specialized in the WingMan collision-avoidance sensors and software for drones as a service.

In 2013, Ann Arbor, Mich.-based SkySpecs won first place and $50,000 in DTE Energy Co.’s Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge.

Last year, SkySpecs won the $500,000 grand prize at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition and participated in the Techstars New York incubator. It also has a National Science Foundation small business innovation grant of $150,000.

Investors in SkySpecs include Venture Investors LLC, Huron River Ventures, and Invest Michigan. The company hopes to reach $1 million in revenue and to double its staff to 16 people next year.

SkySpecs also received an FAA waiver for commercial use. The company will use its technology with a DJI S900 drone.

UpWind Solutions Inc. is one of its first two customers. San Diego-based UpWind is the largest inspector of wind turbines in the U.S. It also plans to use drones to replace some (but not all) human inspectors on ropes.

“It’s very exciting because it means there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said SkySpecs CEO Danny Ellis. “Three years ago, there was no light. Investors were very shy about backing an essentially illegal business in the U.S.”

SkySpecs’ other customer is an Australian company whose contract will begin in the first quarter of 2016.

SkySpecs hopes to expand deployments of its Guardian system to more jobs that are too dull, dirty, or dangerous for humans, including inspection of cellular towers, bridges, and sewers.

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