Drone testing is coming to a state near you!

FAA choses six states for testing; nearly $80 million invested by VCs in drone startups in 2013

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
December 30, 2013
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"Selfie" may have been chosen as Oxford Dictionary's word of the year, but to me, 2013 was definitely the year of the drone.

Following announcements earlier this month, from both Amazon and UPS, that they would be using drone technology to deliver packages in the near future, now the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is moving forward with its plan to allow drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), into the U.S. air traffic system.

What that essentially means is that, one day, you will look out of your airplane window and see a drone staring right back at you. This is not happening any time soon, of course, but that is the eventual plan.

The FAA announced on Monday that it has chosen six different sites, where it will develop, and test, these drones, in order to "help ensure the safe integration of UAS into the nation's airspace as we transition to a system featuring NextGen technologies and procedures."

The organization was mandated by Congress to do this, via the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

The six sites, which were picked based on geographic diversity, climatic diversity, location of ground infrastructure and research needs, are:

  • University of Alaska, chosen for its diverse climate and geography, with a variety of test sites, including in Hawaii and Oregon.
  • State of Nevada, whose project objectives will concentrate on UAS standards and operations as well as operator standards and certification requirements. The state will also look at how air traffic control procedures will evolve when UAS are introduced.
  • New York’s Griffiss International Airport, which will work on developing testing and evaluation process, as well as capabilities for avoiding drone collisions in the congested northeast airspace.
  • North Dakota Department of Commerce, which will develop UAS airworthiness essential data and validate high reliability link technology. It will also conduct human factors research.
  • Texas A&M University, which will develop system safety requirements for UAS vehicles and operations.
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, which will conduct UAS failure mode testing and identify and evaluate operational and technical risks areas. Test sites will be in both Virginia and New Jersey.

Drone investments

Drones have become a hot business this year, with a lot of interest from venture capitalists.

A total of $79 million, in 15 deals, were invested into drone-related startups, according to a report from CB Insights earlier this month. Take a look at the chart below to see how funding has shot up this year:

The vast majority, nearly $57 million, of the money invested that was into drone companies were put into three companies this year:

  • Airware, which specializes in the development of autopilots for unmanned aircraft systems. It raised $13.3 million this year from Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures and First Round Capital to develop customizable, low-cost autopilots for unmanned aerial vehicles. 
  • 3D Robotics, an open Unmanned Aerial Vehicle company, raised money in two rounds this year: first a $30 million Series B financing round, co-led by Foundry Group and True Ventures, along with participation from O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and SK Ventures; then $6 million from Mayfield earlier this month. 
  • CyPhy Works, which developer of advanced Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, raised a $7 million financing round led by Lux Capital, with participation from General Catalyst Partners, Felicis Ventures and several undisclosed angel investors.

Another recent startup, DroneDeploy, which graduated from AngelPad earlier this year, has since gone on to raise money from DFJ for its drone-controlling software. In October, Bloomberg reported that the company raised money from Draper, an early investor in Hotmail, Skype and Baidu, though the exact amount of that investment was not disclosed. 

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