According to Chris Anderson, there are three stages in the evolution of his work with drones. First came the online community, DIY Drones, where hackers and makers swapped tips on how to build and fly all types of unmanned aerial vehicles. By 2009 it was clear there was enough interest from regular people who didn’t want to build a drone from scratch, but would love to fly one if they were for sale. So Anderson and his co-founder, Jordi Munoz, created 3D Robotics to manufacture and sell affordable, consumer-grade drones to the masses. The business grew quickly, and the company was selling $5 million worth of flying robots a year by the end of 2012.
Yesterday 3D Robotics raised $30 million to power phase three. "We created the community, then the product, and the question was, What’s it good for?" says Anderson, the former editor-in-chief of Wired. "What comes next is the platform, the software that makes drones useful to people in the real world. We want a farmer to be able to buy this drone, set it up on his property, and with the push of a button on his smartphone, have it fly around scanning his crops to let him know exactly where he needs to add more water or pesticide." 3D Robotics recently introduced the Iris, the company’s first ready-to-fly, fully autonomous quadcopter capable of recording high-definition aerial video with a price tag below $1,000.
"Help people not just get a kick out of drones, but use them to make money."
Despite being based in California, the majority of 3D Robotics' sales are overseas. That’s because commercial use of drones is currently banned in the US, pending new rules from the Federal Aviation Administration, which are due to arrive in 2015. "We’re not waiting for the laws to change before we start focusing on what the market is asking for," says Anderson. "This funding will be used to hire developers who can help us build out software for agriculture, law enforcement, and Hollywood."
The new funding will be used to hire an international sales force, software developers, and data scientists who can create these new interfaces, as well as additional talent on the hardware side to improve the cameras and sensors 3D Robotics can package with their units. "Drones can collect an amazing amount of information in a very short time," says Anderson. "But that doesn’t mean anything if people can’t understand what it means. Our goal is to deliver something that can help people not just get a kick out of drones, but use them to make money."