Drone startup Airware spent much of the past five years developing an operating system that other companies could use in their own machines. Now Airware will begin selling complete drone solutions.
The company will now work with preferred drone manufacturing partners to sell devices armed with its Aerial Information Platform software and with create a cloud solution for receiving, storing and analyzing the data from the drones. And Airware will get help along the way: Company officials this week announced that Airware has raised another $30 million in funding—bringing to the total amount raised to more than $70 million—and that ex-Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers (who is an investor) will join the company's board of directors.
The money and the addition of Chambers to the board will be a boost to Airware as it looks to grow in an increasingly competitive and fast-growing market. While much of the focus in the early part of the market was in the consumer space, businesses are increasingly looking to drones for everything from product delivering to inspections of remote and hard-to-reach sites, and the trend is going up. In a report on the general state of aviation in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) noted that by 2020, about 4.3 million unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be sold to consumers, while 2.7 million will be sold to businesses for commercial use.
That is the area in which Airware officials want to play, and they're going to do it with complete hardware and software offerings. The company in April 2015 launched the Aerial Information Platform—which works with drones from such vendors as Allied Drones and Delta Drone—and has built the Airware Cloud to manage, analyze and secure the data from drones. The next step for the company is to build the actual drones, according to founder and CEO Jonathan Downey. Enterprises don't want to deal with a fragmented market made up of vendors selling point products that would need to be integrated, would raise support and service issues, and would likely be more expensive than a single offering from a single vendor.
"What enterprises need is a complete solution built on a platform that enables them to address multiple applications," Downey wrote in a blog post on Medium.com. "The work we had done building the Aerial Information Platform meant we were best positioned to provide complete solutions to the enterprise. That realization came eight months ago. Since that time, we've been hard at work building the last bridge for the last gap between enterprises and commercial drone technology. So today, I get to announce that Airware is offering complete enterprise drone solutions."
He wrote that after Chambers stepped down as Cisco's CEO last year after 20 years, he mentored Downey for four months. Now Chambers, who is still Cisco's executive chairman, will be on Airware's board.
Chambers' interest in Airware is not surprising. Cisco during his tenure embraced the Internet of things (IoT), with Chambers saying that Cisco hardware would be the foundational technology for the infrastructure on which the IoT was built. Drones are a fast-growing part of the IoT. On the consumer side alone, analysts with ABI Research are predicting that by 2025, more than 90 million UAVs will ship (up from 4.9 million in 2014), an annual growth rate of 30.4 percent. Revenues in 2025 will hit $4.6 billion.
The $30 million in the latest round of funding came from Next World Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, and Chambers, according to Downey.
Editor's note: This story was updated to better reflect Airware's plans around complete solutions.