2017 is already starting to be the biggest year in drones

2017 is on to show us immense progress in the drone industry and investments from big companies like Microsoft, Caterpillar, and Allianz. The commercial drone business is just becoming even more spectacular and use cases that have been science fiction 20 years ago are now a reality.

In 2016 costs for drones dropped rapidly, the commercial drone use took off for agriculture, surveying, industrial and infrastructure inspection. In 2017 the commercial drone market is expected to continue to grow rapidly and professionals from all fields are now looking to drone technology to boost their business results. Here are the biggest drone news of 2017 so far.

Verizon buys Skyward

Skyward offers a cloud-based Software solution for commercial drone operators. The solution integrates flight planning with a drone airspace map and a digital system of record. Skyward started four years ago, now people in over 40 countries rely on the software to power drone programs in industries like

  • industrial inspection,
  • construction,
  • media,
  • insurance,
  • real estate,
  • precision agriculture,
  • mining and more.

Verizon acquires Skyward to reduce complexity for drone-operators and simplify drone-operations. With Verizon´s expertise in building enterprise solutions the goal is to deliver great solutions faster than ever before. Skyward wants to make their products faster, easier and more efficient.

Mariah Scott and Jonathan Evans, Co-Presidents of Skyward, say the mission stays the same: Skyward wants to power safe, efficient commercial drone operations, so drone operators can maximize the value that drones bring to their business. Skyward has developed a platform that is FAA compliant and can scale to small and large operations. The company will operate under Verizon´s Internet of Things portfolio.

AirMap raised $26 million for airspace management system

The startup AirMap was founded in Santa Monica, California. It touts itself as an airspace intelligence platform that provides drone operators with airspace information to fly safely. Today AirMap is the world´s leading airspace management platform for drones. The information help pilots to know when and where they can fly and drones can communicate with each other. Major drone companies like DJI and 3DR use AirMaps services already and AirMap collaborates with some of the largest airports in the U.S., so drone fliers can share their real/time location with them. In April 2016 the company raised $15 million in a Series A funding round. In February 2017 the company announced that it has raised a $26 million Series B funding round from Qualcomm Ventures, Microsoft Ventures, Airbus Ventures, Sony, and others.

The company says the new funding will be used to accelerate the development of its airspace management tools. AirMap CEO Ben Marcus said: „Our commitment is to help make drones a part of everyday life“. Nagraj Kashyap, corporate vice president of Microsoft Ventures said „AirMap […] will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the drone industry“, with its resources, platforms and AI technologies Microsoft wants to fuel the drone ecosystem“. Also with Qualcomm and Airbus on board, it is easy to say that the investors are more important than the amount of money. Over the next decade, the opening of U.S. airspace to drones could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy, recent estimates are suggesting.

Caterpillar invests in Airware: drones for mining and construction enterprises

The startup Airware from San Francisco was founded in 2001 and is providing cloud-based software and services for large enterprises to use drones throughout their operations. Companies can plan flights and automate those as much as possible. By putting drones to work construction, mining and insurance companies can cut costs and increase their revenue and productivity by improving worker safety.

Founder and CEO Jonathan Downey explains, the company is focused on the industries

  • insurance
  • construction and
  • mining.

Examples: Insurance companies use drones to inspect rooftops for damage, mining companies can track how much material comes from a quarry and in construction, the software helps to create site maps.

Caterpillar Ventures invested already in 2016 and did it in February 2017 again. George Taylor, Caterpillar Chief Marketing Officer, explains „with Airware we are better positioned to offer drones services through industry-leading technology“. Customers will be able to use drone services and analytics like mapping, volumetrics tools, a core set of photogrammetry and a suite of advanced reporting and analysis tools.

Allianz becomes the main sponsor of Drone Racing League

The Drone Racing League (DRL) has a new global partnership with the insurance company Allianz. Allianz is the title sponsor of the elite race circuit that will be rebranded as „the Allianz World Championship series“. Starting in June 2017 the race circuit will include six races that will be aired in mire than seventy-five countries. According to CEO Nicolas Horbaczewski, it is a „very material deal“ as Allianz will not receive equity in the DRL. For a start-up league the five-year title sponsorship deal is huge, so Horbaczewski said: „this is an incredibly exciting day for the Drone Racing League and a huge leap forward for professional drone racing“.

Airstoc sells no more stock to pilots

The company Airstoc sent an email to all contributors, informing that the stock footage service will be interrupted from March 1st, 2017. If you are looking for an alternative way to showcase your work, you can join the team at the Hong Kong bases Aerial Entertainment Studios or Skytango. offers a library to sell your drone footage and offers buyers a unique set of tools to evaluate the compliance of your footage.

Layoffs at Parrot

For drone makers, it is hard to compete with China´s DJI. The french drone maker Parrot is planning to lay off one-third of its drone-related workforce. In its fourth quarter, the company missed sales by around 15 percent and will lay off about 290 employees. Parrot said that margins in consumer drone business are so low that it is difficult to generate profitable growth.

DJI dropped prices by 70 percent in less than a year, explained Chris Anderson, CEO of drone software firm 3D Robotics in an interview with Recode. Ant that`s why the company now focuses on drone software.

Cisco invests in new Anti-Drone Startup DeDrone

While other companies focus on the benefits of a new drone revolution, the company DeDrone wants to capitalize on the existing problems of „malicious drones“. In its Series B funding round the company raised additional $15 million from Cisco Systems. In late 2016 DeDrone had won the Cisco Innovation Award. The software platform is leveraged to protect all kinds of organizations. Customers can be airports and prisons, data centers, against corporate espionage, terrorism, hacking, drug smuggling etc.

2017 shapes to be the year when large enterprises enter the drone industry via an investment and acquisition strategy. This seems to be a smart move as drone company valuations are still considerably smaller than in other booming industries such as VR/AR if. Besides these drone industry titans there many exciting drone start-ups especially in hot spots such as Shenzen, Silicon Valley and Berlin. One sub sector that I personally believe big news are coming from are Drones-a-service with players such Dronebase, Airstoc, Fairfleet360 and AIRTEAM. Especially the extremely successful and rapidly advancing Dronebase, founded in 2014 by Daniel Burton with 7 Mio US$ in founding will surely not stop innovating. So stay excited for the next big drones stories to unravel as 2017 marches on.

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