Investment in the drone sector is growing significantly each year. We are seeing investment funds, big technology firms, and wealthy individuals investing in the drone sector.
This big money is moving into the most innovative companies in the drone sector.
Below, I detail Yuneec, 3DR, Ehang, and DJI with their total investment to date. DJI is the largest consumer drone manufacturer and it is already valued at $8 to $10 billion.
For 2015, DJI sales were over $1 billion, all within a few years. There are many more to come. Most of these companies started from the garage or kitchen table and have grown pretty rapidly.
Companies And Funds Investing In Drones
Consumer drone sales in 2015 reached $1.5 billion. By 2020, this is set to increase to $4 billion. That’s just the consumer market. Add to this the commercial drone sector and the periphery hardware and we have one very large market.
This year, 2015 is shaping up to be a breakout year for drone investment, as drone startups have already raised $172 million in equity financing this year – more than the previous three years combined.
Innovation in this sector is already at a fast pace. With this new money flowing into the UAV sector, innovation is going to snowball. It’s not just the UAV technology that will benefit. There is also massive innovation in the closely related UAV fields such as gimbals, cameras, and sensors (lidar, ultrasonic, thermal etc). This also includes software development to harness the power of much-improved hardware.
Drones are being used to create 3D maps of land areas for multiple sectors. Also, 3D models of buildings, bridges, and other structures are becoming very useful. The software required to create these 3D maps from photos has moved along at a lightning pace. You can read further on the top photogrammetry packages here, which are changing this drone sector dramatically giving plenty of new users for drones.
We will also see new concepts, where drones can be used. New areas never dreamed of or imagined before. We are already seeing these new concepts with some terrific uses for drones in Search and Rescue, Collision Avoidance Systems, Traffic Control, Precision Farming, Archaeology, Conservation, and Environmental works.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the big benefactors of these drone investments.
Drones Companies Receiving Investment Funds
Yuneec International Receives Massive Drone Investment Funds
Intel Invests $60 Million In Drone Maker Yuneec
26th August 2015
Intel has invested $60 million into Hong Kong drone maker Yuneec International through its venture funding arm Intel Capital. The news was announced by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and Yuneec CEO Tian Yu in a joint Intel-Yuneec video “partially shot” by a drone, according to Intel Capital’s press release.
“We believe drones have the potential to positively change lives in terrific ways, whether that’s delivering consumer goods or inspecting disaster sites. And with the coming addition of Intel technology inside, Yuneec’s smart drones can create amazing possibilities,” Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich in a statement.
Yuneec manufacture the very popular high spec ready-to-fly Typhoon Q500 drone with 4k camera. Their latest drone is the Typhoon H which includes collision avoidance systems.
While Yuneec has received this massive investment in their drone company, they have been around for quite a while. Founded in 1999, Yuneec is the world leader in electric aviation. With hundreds of patents, Yuneec’s core technologies power manned aircraft across the globe with the UAV sector also benefiting from the years of knowledge, research and development.
Here the CEO of Intel discussing the big investment.
3DR Receive New Rounds Of Drone Funding
In 2012 which is a long time ago in this fast-paced drone sector, 3DR received an investment of $5 million. They were one of the first drone companies to receive significant investment. 3DR total drone investments to date stand at $99 million.
3DR’s latest drone is the magnificent Solo, which was specifically designed for the GoPro Hero action cameras. The Solo drone is pretty adaptable and we are seeing third-party thermal and multispectral sensors fitting its underside.
Let’s take a quick look at where this drone investment came from.
Drone Maker 3DR Raises $50 Million
26th Feb 2015
The US largest personal drone manufacturer, 3DR raised $50 million on Wednesday led by Qualcomm Ventures. A valuation was not disclosed. The round was the largest amount raised by any U.S.-based consumer drone company to date.
The company intends to use the funds to expand its product development in both its hardware and software products. 3DR will also work with Qualcomm to utilize the company’s Snapdragon processors.
“The incredible pace of innovation in the smartphone industry is transforming loads of adjacent industries, including drones. By working with Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., we can bring advanced computing to the skies at an increasing pace” said 3DR co-founder and former Wired Magazine editor, Chris Anderson in a statement.
“Such multi-gigahertz Linux-based onboard computing platforms, combined with state of the art cameras and other sensors and wireless technologies, will allow us to create next-generation drones that are smarter, easier, and safer than ever before.”
A financial document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday showed that the company was only looking to raise $40 million in the round. According to the document, it had sold just over $32 million worth of shares. It’s unclear how 3DR exceeded the $40 million it originally expected to raise. A company spokesperson has not said how they exceeded their original funding expectation.
3DR Expands Financing to $64 Million
23rd April 2015
3DR, North America’s largest manufacturer of consumer drones and founder of the world’s leading open drone software platform, today announced an expansion of its Series C round of financing from $50 million to $64 million raised.
The additional funding is led by WestSummit Capital, with additional global investors from Asia, Europe, and the U.S. participating, including SanDisk Ventures and Atlantic Bridge Ventures.
3DR initiated the Series C financing with $50 million in investment led by Qualcomm Ventures, Foundry Group, True Ventures, OATV, Mayfield, Shea Ventures. 3DR will leverage the expertise and market knowledge from a diverse investor base to lead innovation in the dynamic and rapidly expanding global UAV market.
“We’re active investors in the Internet of Things market and see huge promise in 3DR as a leader in next-generation robotics,” said David Lam, Managing Director of WestSummit Capital. “IoT is a truly international market where software meets hardware and East meets West, and 3DR has developed an incredibly advanced and globally adopted drone software and hardware platform.
WestSummit Capital’s China Value Creation capabilities match perfectly with 3DR’s cross-border business, embracing Silicon Valley innovation, Asian manufacturing, global competition, and the global market.”
3DR Raise $30 Million Drone Investment
26th September 2013
3DR announced earlier today that it locked up a $30 million Series B round, with a list of participants that includes Foundry Group, True Ventures, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, and SK Ventures.
3DR Announce VC Funding Of $5 Million
The company previously closed a $5 million round in December 2012. This round of funding was led by Jon Callaghan at True Ventures and Bryce Roberts of O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures.
Richard Branson Invests In 3DR
16th September 2014
Drone startup 3DR receives investment from Richard Branson. “I’m really excited about the potential 3DR sees in drones,” Branson said in a statement. “They can do a lot of good in the world, and I hope this affordable technology will give many more people the chance to see our beautiful planet from such a powerful perspective.”
Here’s a beautiful 3D Robotics drone view of Richard Branson’s home on Necker Island. Just WOW.
EHANG Receive Drone Investment Funds
Ehang Drone Maker Receives $42 Million
25th August 2015
Drone startup EHANG receives a $42 million Series B investment to develop its technology and launch new products. Led by GP Capital, the round also included participation from returning investors GGV Capital, ZhenFund, and PreAngel, as well as Lebox Capital and OFC.
30th December 2014 – $10 Million Investment
EHANG, the maker of app-controlled Ghost drones for consumer and industrial users, raised a Series A of $10 million in December. The company plans to launch its next generation of drones this year and says its newest capital will be used to develop new products and expand its app ecosystem.
“As a hardware company, the product has always been the priority for us,” chief executive officer Huazhi Hu tells TechCrunch. There will be both industrial and consumer drones in our next-generation products. We want to enhance our ability to transform advanced technology into mature products, as well as improve distribution channels and after-sale services through the funds.”
To support its growth plans, EHANG, which has offices in Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, and San Francisco, recently filled four executive positions.
Shang-wen Hsiao, the former president, and chief financial officer of 21Vianet, a data services company, is now EHANG’s CFO and co-founder.
Wei Qi, previously the vice president of Lenovo Group, was appointed EHANG’s senior vice president of operations and co-founder; Microsoft China’s former sales director of corporate and channel department Yijun Wang is its new vice president of sales; and Richard Liu, former vice president of finance at 21Vianet, now holds the same title at the drone startup.
EHANG wants to differentiate by making its drones as easy to fly as possible. Ghost automatically follows users around or changes direction when they tilt their smartphones.
In a prepared statement, GP Capital representative Haoxiang Hou said “We truly believe that the smart control experience of the EHANG drones can be more widely applied across market sectors and that the company can make a revolutionary breakthrough in UAV technologies.”
Since it’s Series A nine months ago, EHANG has more than doubled its employees to 150 and now sells Ghost in 70 countries. It hopes to build a stronger foothold in the U.S. by partnering with Hobbico, one of the country’s largest airplane model distributors. While EHANG is headquartered in China, Hu says its international user base will help it weather recent market turmoil.
“Our overseas consumers account for 60 percent of our global users and all of our financing funds are in U.S. dollars, which is a powerful backbone for us to face the domestic market crash.”
Ehang no longer manufactures the Ghost drone and concentrates on research and development of the Ehang Urban Autonomous Aerial Vehicle.
DJI Receives Massive Drone Investment
DJI Big $75 Million Investment
6th May 2015
The biggest company in the consumer drone market wants to become a platform for the entire industry. The company behind the most popular consumer drone in the world announced this morning that it was raising $75 million in funding from Accel Partners, an investor in companies like Facebook and Dropbox. “Accel’s experience backing some of the world’s most iconic technology companies as they built communities around their products will be useful for us as we expand as a platform for innovation,” said DJI founder and CEO Frank Wang.
DJI is Valued at Approximately $8 Billion
Accel put in money at roughly an $8 billion valuation, and DJI is in further investment talks which value the company at around $10 billion, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. DJI is on pace to double its sales this year, generating around $1 billion in revenue.
“DJI is kicking everybody’s behind,” said Bilal Zuberi, a tech investor who has backed drone makers like CyPhy Works. “They are the Apple of the space.” DJI isn’t just taking the lion’s share of the profits. It also resembles Apple in that it offers an attractive and easy-to-use gadget that is difficult to modify when compared to more open and modular systems developed by competitors.
That approach has helped it win over legions of rookie pilots but made it less of a player in the commercial market for drones, where units need to be customized for specific tasks. “It became apparent early on that there were really two types of drone companies,” said Mike Abbott, a partner at Kleiner Perkins who invested in Airware, a drone startup.
The first kind takes a horizontal approach, building software or hardware that can work with any drone. “Others are looking into a certain vertical, say precision agriculture.”
DJI had been a vertical company making drones for aerial photography and video, but the company hopes to use this funding to change that. “We aspire for DJI to offer a platform for unbounded creativity and exploration across areas as diverse as film making, agriculture, conservation, search and rescue, energy infrastructure, mapping, and more,” said Wang.
The repeated use of the word platform is telling. DJI won’t tip its hat completely about future plans, but, reading between the lines, it appears the company would like to not just sell hardware, but to become the backbone that supports new companies and services across the entire drone ecosystem. That has been the mantra pitched by tech investors like Chris Dixon. “The hardware will be commoditized, and the value will accrue to the best software,” he told The Verge. “You want to be the operating system, not the manufacturer.”
DJI did release a software development kit when it debuted its Inspire 1 unit in November of last year. Its investors believe that the combination of hardware and software will make it the front runner in the race to fulfill the booming demand for drones. “DJI is quickly establishing itself as the owner of the world’s most powerful robotics platforms,” said Sameer Gandhi, the partner at Accel who led this investment. “The democratization of the skyways is well underway with affordable access to UAVs allowing people and companies to rethink what’s possible.”
DJI says venture firm Sequoia Capital already is an investor.
Their latest drone models include the latest top Mavic 2, the older Mavic Pro, the extraordinary high-tech Phantom 4 Pro with loads of intelligent flight modes and obstacle avoidance, the Matrice 100 SDK drone, and the Inspire 2 for professional cinematography.
Intel Acquire Ascending Technologies
Intel is investing and positioning itself at the forefront of the opportunities coming available in the drone sector. Intel is looking to increasingly integrate computing, communications, sensor, and cloud technologies to make drones smarter and more connected.
On January 4th, 2016, Intel signed a definitive agreement, subject to customary closing conditions, to acquire Ascending Technologies, a drone company located in Krailing, Germany, with best-in-class drone auto-pilot software and algorithms. Ascending Technologies’ sense-and-avoid algorithms with Intel™ RealSense® technology’s real-time depth-sensing capability can, among other things, improve drone safety – helping them avoid obstacles and collisions.
Watch as this AscTec Firefly drone, with an on-board Intel RealSense 3D camera, navigate through a heavily wooded forest. Incredible technology.