Like Carl Sagan fans, drone observers have grown comfortably numb when hearing the words “billions and billions” bandied about when speaking of UAV market potential.
Marketwatch recently forecasted that the drone market would reach $4.8 billion worldwide by 2021. Market intelligence expert Marcelo Ballve believes the commercial drone industry will far outpace the growth of the military sector. Ballve thinks the drone industry will generating $2.3 billion in U.S. investment in 2016.
Of course, Chinese drone industry leader DJI’s recent $8-10 billion valuation is old news but, according to the New York Times, a handful of UAV companies are starting to catch up to DJI, galloping into the rarified field of “unicorns” – private tech firms that have been valued over $1 billion.
Venture-capital tracking firm CB Insights recently captured a promising stable of 50 firms that the company predicts may soon break the billion-dollar barrier. Not surprisingly, drone companies 3D Robotics and Airware made the list derived from “an algorithm that analyzed factors including amount of financing raised, employee turnover and social media mentions.”
In June, 3DR released its newest consumer UAV, Solo, at Best Buy stores and online. Company founder Chris Anderson expressed high hopes for Solo. “This is the best consumer ‘copter ever made,” he told Fortune. “And we think it’s probably the best commercial ‘copter ever made as well.”
Dubbed “North America’s largest manufacturer of consumer drones,” 3DR recently announced an expanded round of financing from $50 million to $64 million led by WestSummit Capital, with additional global investors from Asia, Europe and the U.S. participating, including SanDisk Ventures and Atlantic Bridge Ventures.
“3DR’s roots are in a worldwide, open developer community, so creating an equally expansive global organization is a key part of company strategy,” Anderson said. “China is emerging as a world leader in drone technology and production, and many of the innovative companies there are already using 3DR platforms. We see tremendous opportunity to work with investors and experts in these markets to extend that lead and work more closely with innovative young companies.”
As reported in DRONELIFE, “Airware is one of, if not the, most well funded drone startups in the world. They manufacture a very sophisticated drone operating system that integrates the company’s hardware, software, and cloud storage capabilities to do a lot of fancy flying and aerial data collection.”
Designing hardware, software and data storage for commercial drones, Airware has been touted as an operating system that guides commercial drones much in the same way that Windows serves as the default OS for PCs. Remote pilots use the program to set up flight paths from a tablet, while still being able to change plans during flight.
CEO Jonathan Downey raised more than $40 million in venture capital this past year and the company has grown to 80 staffers. Last year, Airware garnered an unspecified amount of capital from GE as well.
“Commercial drones will change the way we do our jobs, improve our decision-making and save lives,” Downey said.