Almost monthly, I’m seeing a new drone startup emerge with an exciting set of abstractions. The commercial drone market is becoming a huge area of innovation, investment and application. Cloud based software platforms for fleet management, automation, aerial imaging, APIs - you name it: the entire software stack for the commercial drone market is being built by startups right now and I want to tell you a little about it.
Drones are going to need well executed cloud based software platforms with APIs. For drones to work at mass scale in cities, most of the functions will have to be automated, we are going to have to open up the data and make standards so that drones can talk to each other via the network.
Drone Control - In AngelPad’s latest batch. Control an entire fleet of drones from the browser. This platform can also automatically help users adhere to flight restrictions and laws (like not flying above 400ft).
Companies are emerging that want to be the Intel or Microsoft of the drone market. They want to own the firmware and software stack of the core control systems on the drone.
Airware - Y Combinator funded and recently raised a big round from A16Z. Airware (previously Unmanned Innovations) are making the firmware and hardware/firmware platform for drones.
The prospect of sending mail via drones instead of Fedex is pretty exciting. Food delivery could cut out the car / motorbike and reduce road congestion. At least two companies are working on commercial delivery networks using UAVs. They will face practical difficulties of FAA maximum payload limits and in specific countries not being able to go into congested areas.
Matternet.us - Attempting to build a network infrastructure of UAVs that can pickup and deliver from locations. Tasks like tracking poachers in Africa, to delivering an iPhone charger cable quickly might be covered by them in the future. I had the luck of meeting someone on the project, who told me he could get a drone delivery port built into my office in 2015.
Skycatch - commercial delivery of objects. API into drones and set google map waypoints. This is going to be very useful for anyone wanting to have a UAV network at scale.
Satellite imaging not cutting it? Get in close with a drone. Drones may bridge the gap for hi-resolution and controllable imaging of ground assets. Satellite imaging is expensive and cannot go inside buildings. We need the kind of resolution that can track down an illegal poacher or find a lost child.
Mavrx - This team is bringing HD imaging capabilities for commercial purposes using drones. Makes sense for many applications including security, crop/herd management and construction sites.
There are tons of hardware suppliers emerging but I want to highlight two special companies that have hit the consumer / maker market with success:
Crazyflie - absolutely tiny, 19gram drone. Really fun and hard to control/setup. I’ve been hacking around with the one I own.
Parrot - the AR Drone is the most successful consumer drone, an entire community has been built around these. We have one in the office - very stable.
There have been some crazy hacks going on in the drone world:
Wireless charging - drones have limited power, this hack involves allowing a drone to charge wirelessly, so it could go back to a charging spot and hover while charging. Companies like Ubeam will increase the range of charging eventually when their technology becomes wide spread. This is going to help keep drones up in the air without having to come down for recharging.
Dynamic movement - drones can now throw, catch and balance an inverted pendulums. This is a really tricky feat, looking forward to drone made cocktails…
Dogfighting - getting two drones to get in sync with each other is no easy task. This kind of control will help with managing fleet interactions and making them not hit each other in crowded cities.
Construction - The entire construction industry at some point will be automated which will include the use of drones to deploy materials - especially useful for temporary installations.
Other: Gesture controlled drones, Siri controlled drone, Mind controlled drone, Complex maneuvers, Swarm control,
To get more information about the drone community in general, check out Chris Anderson’s DIYdrones site.