Furthering Innovation In Autonomy With Auterion
We are entering the age of autonomy. From robots to drones to vehicles, it is clear that autonomous robotic systems will have a significant impact on our generation and those which follow.
Our team has spent much of the past year exploring the current state of autonomous systems and seen awe-inspiring demos from companies like Boston Dynamics, Skydio, and Zoox paint a picture of what is possible.
But we’ve also seen that best-in-class autonomy today is still inaccessible to all but the most technically adept, extremely well-resourced organizations. Although they tackle different markets, it’s worth noting that the companies above have all taken a vertically integrated approach to building their products. They build almost all software and hardware themselves through a slow, complex supply chain and manage third party integrations directly.
Indeed, it is common for vertically-integrated companies to dominate nascent markets in the early days. These companies can better control quality and build software purpose-built to their new needs. Apple and the iPhone is a classic example. But as markets mature, horizontal software and hardware purpose-built for these new industries emerge — like Android, which is now a more popular OS by volume and hardware form factor reach.
As drones have expanded beyond their hobbyist origins to become critical inputs of daily business operations, enterprises need an auditable, open-source, world-class toolset for their drone applications. They need high durability, long battery life and hardware agnosticism — as well as cyber-secure, tested integrations to solve end user needs ‘out of the box’.
We’ve surveyed the opportunities in autonomy and looked for markets where a horizontal, operating system-level platform opportunity should exist. The commercial and military drone segment is quietly exploding — forecasted to be over $85b+ in aggregate sales by 2020. We believe there needs to be an open-source operating system to hasten progress in this segment. Commercial, enterprise functionality will be necessary for this open-source operating system because basic services should not be controlled by vertically-integrated, monopolistic providers in walled gardens. The autonomous robotics world deserves a Red Hat for its Linux to help drone manufacturers and service providers accomplish more.
An Open, Inclusive Approach
In this light, I’m very proud to announce our recent Seed investment in Auterion, the leading open-source operating system enabling commercial and military drones and other autonomous systems. Auterion, co-founded by Lorenz Meier and Kevin Sartori, supports the core development in PX4, a hardware agnostic, open-source drone software (created by Lorenz during his PhD at ETH Zurich 10 years ago — a ‘labor of love’ as he describes it). The popularity and technical community of contributors to PX4 is world class, with a team of over 3,500 contributors globally and 20% of the drone market already using the system.
Using Auterion, manufacturers and providers can focus on their customer use case. This may be improving GPS location specificity, optimizing video-link, developing advanced computer-vision based object avoidance, or variable payload management. At the same time, those enterprises can rely on technical innovation from best-in-class partners throughout the software stack, including — but not limited to — 3D Robotics, Airmap, Intel, NXP, Sony, and STMicroelectronics. Several fast-growing enterprise drone providers have pursued and differentiated their offerings with this approach. Yuneec, PrecisionHawk and Zipline are great examples — and they all use PX4 and / or Auterion for a commercial license.
We weren’t just inspired by an opportunity to help build a platform business which will help safely and compliantly deliver the promise of autonomy for military and commercial organizations alike. We are also eager to support Lorenz and Kevin, two technical, highly strategic thinkers out of ETH Zurich who have loved their craft since they were young. I’m thrilled to be doing so alongside some of our favorite European investors, Lakestar and Mosaic Ventures, to help the talented Auterion team build an enduring business.