Bay Area startup gets $25M to develop drone technology

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ByJonathan Bloom KGO logo
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Bay Area startup gets $25M to develop drone technology
In the future we may see a lot more drones flying overhead and many will be carrying technology from a Bay Area company.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A Bay Area start-up got a major infusion of cash this week -- $25 million to develop new technology for drones. And we could soon be seeing a lot more of them overhead.

"So this aircraft is a hard foam, and I think you could probably just about fly it into yourself and not really hurt yourself too bad," Airware CEO Jonathan Downey said.

He showed ABC7 News the Delta Drone Y, which is just one aircraft out of Downey's collection. As he showed off another he said, "This is the Super Bat made by MLB company. It can fly for over eight hours."

It is fair to say he's a bit of an aviation nut. Downey said, "Both my parents are pilots, my uncle's cousin's grandfather's a pilot."

TechCrunch writer Josh Constine said, "He did drones at MIT, he built drones for Boeing. This guy basically has a superhero origin story when it comes to aeronautics."

That's why Constine isn't surprised that Downey's startup just got another round of venture capital, this time -- $25 million.

"I think they're making a really smart investment, personally. I believe Airware's one of the most high-potential startups I've seen in years," Constine said.

Airware doesn't make the drones. They make what's inside them.

"The key component of the Airware platform is what we call the flight core. It's the unit that has all the sensors required to fly the aircraft," Constine said.

Think of it like the processor inside your smartphone -- complete with its own operating system. It automates all the gritty stuff like wing flaps and propellers -- so developers can literally just write apps for airplanes.

"I think nobody understood all of the different apps that would be on your phone before there was a platform like Android or IOS," Downey said.

Airware's timing couldn't be better. In just a few months, the FAA could give the green light to commercial drone use. And that, they say, would be big.

"I think the FAA doesn't quite realize how big it's going to be when they green light commercial drone use," Downey said.

Downey thinks the first use will be industrial photography and inspecting things that are hard to get to.

"For cellphone tower inspection, this aircraft can take off and land vertically," Downey said.

Of course, Amazon envisions a world where drones replace delivery trucks.

"Package delivery, it's going to happen, but I think it's going to happen initially for applications that are really life-saving like the delivery of vaccines and medicines," Downey said.

In fact, MIT is already testing a way to distribute vaccines in rural Africa using drones powered by Airware.