SkyFund: Supporting a New Age of Robotics and Intelligent Machines

Two weeks ago we announced a $75m investment into DJI, the world’s leading unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and robotics company. Today, we’re introducing the SkyFund, a joint initiative with DJI to support the rich, organic innovation we’re seeing across the sector. Together, we’re planting a flag not only in the UAV space, but more broadly in the booming field of robotics and intelligent machines.

We’re already witnessing remarkable consumer and enterprise innovation atop these hardware platforms — from next-gen flight control and autonomous navigation, to new data analytics and cloud services. With SkyFund, we’ll work to discover and fund the future of this category.

Video: Introducing the SkyFund

The enthusiastic outreach we’ve received from entrepreneurs, scientists, researchers and developers since announcing our investment is indicative of the energy and curiosity around the ecosystem. But for the many who haven’t stopped to think about this new platform, we thought it helpful to structure and illuminate our own observations:

  • We’re At A Unique Moment In Time. With UAVs and robotics, years of pent up academic research in computer vision, batteries, AI and navigation now has a vessel for commercialization. A decade of smartphone industry R&D yielded smaller components, more powerful chipsets and smarter sensors. We’re enjoying runaway “deflation” across the hardware landscape thanks to rapid, kitchen-table prototyping, cheaper materials and new 3D printing capabilities. And, once drones are in the sky, ubiquitous data connectivity means we can interact with data in real-time (vs. the “batch” jobs of the send-retrieve era).
This confluence of inputs is driving new form factors and new capabilities — powering a legion of entrepreneurs who historically were tethered to government and university labs.
  • We’re Seeing a Spectrum of New Apps, With Many More Coming Online. We’re not predicting a future where our skylines are dotted entirely in drones, but the UAVs which have taken flight are already collecting new, interesting data — interacting with bespoke applications that fit a number of high-value vertical and case-specific needs. Entrepreneurs today are already building the software and services to extend UAVs into a multitude of end markets. With DJI’s SDK, entrepreneurs can power new apps ad-hoc — shrinking development down from months, to a matter of days. With it, we’ll see all sorts of new services that change the way we capture amazing film, map our ever-changing world, respond to natural disasters, collect infrastructure intelligence, and much, much more.
With the SkyFund, we’re declaring our support for the developers who build for these unique and audacious use cases.
  • While Consumer Adoption Has Been Amazing, The Enterprise Opportunity Looms. To date, consumers and hobbyists have made up much of the installed base, but it’s easy to envision a future where businesses are the dominant user. At their core, DJI’s machines are elegantly bundled packages of flying sensors and cameras. For organizations seeking new, real-time data sources to power their business decisions, UAVs illuminate this previously “dark” data. This in turn creates a new visualization plane that helps businesses plan, assess and react to anything in their field of choice. UAVs can power new approaches to entire swaths of service and labor categories, from field inspection to delivery to surveillance. We speak with industrial farmers, environmental scientists, solar farm operators, disaster-relief responders, oil and gas technicians and folks across the professional landscape who share our enthusiasm for these transformative experiences.

In the past half-decade, we’ve seen Google self-driving cars take to our roads, SpaceX rockets take to space and Oculus headsets take us far outside our bodies and minds.

The intelligent machines we’ve conceived are just beginning to change the way we work, play, and connect.

In that vein, we believe DJI is a similarly special company, poised to drive a bright future where aerial robotics are commonplace at work and in the home. With the SkyFund, we’re excited to partner with DJI to support an already vibrant developer ecosystem — and ignite ever more applications to take to the skies.

– Sameer Gandhi (@skg_accel), Miles Clements (@mkclements), Vas Natarajan (@vas)

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