Commercial drone software provider Converge raises $750,000

The company uses artificial intelligence to allow drones to update their paths in real time

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
January 25, 2018
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While much of the press around the drone space seems to revolve around the consumer, the enterprise is equally, if not more important. It's the commercial drone market that is expected to grow to $58.3 billion.

That's the side of the market that Converge, a commercial drone software provider, is focused on and, on Thursday, it announced that it has raised a $750,000 seed round from investors that included Samsung NEXT, Techstars Ventures, Kima Ventures, and other angel investors.

Converge had previously raised a small convertible note after graduating TechStars in 2006. Otherwise, this is the first funding it has received.

The San Francisco-based company provides businesses with AI-powered software for drones called Control Tower, with a main focus on two verticals: insurance and construction, two industries where drones can make a big difference in terms of time, money and safety.

“We help with the work people do every day that involves going out on buildings. So you’re climbing up on a roof because you’re an insurance adjuster, and you’re trying to understand the damage. You’re somebody who is inspecting a building as it’s being constructed, you’re going up on a ladder to look at the windows. There are all these problems that people have and it’s very dangerous work that they’re doing. At the end of the day they’re standing there and snapping photos with their smartphones. This is something that could be done much more easily, much more safely, if you have both feet firmly planted on the ground, and, instead, have a drone up there collecting that data for you, those images," David Pitman, Co-Founder and CEO of Converge, said in an interview with VatorNews.

Converge is able to save those businesses both time and money. For example, an insurance adjuster can go from seeing three houses a day to 20, simply by no longer having to get a ladder and inspect the roof themselves. They save even more time with a commercial building, which requires an hour-long safety briefing, and is even more perilous to inspect. Meanwhile, a construction company can monitor their progress on multiple sites so much faster, Pitman said, that the drone has freed up so much time for project managers that they could start helping out their other colleagues with other tasks.

"It’s really been a great multiplier on what these very skilled professionals have been able to do to really jump ahead in understanding what the state of building is, what the state of a structure is and what is the next step in their business process and workflow," he said.

Artificial intelligence

Of course, any drone can fly up and take pictures; there's nothing much special about that. It's Coverge's artificial intelligence that sets it apart from some amateur flying their drone in the park. That means the software can turn the data it collects into actionable intelligence.

For example, if a drone scans a roof, it won't capture the model of that roof but be able to actually understand how many square feet of shingles are necessary to repair it. 

"It's about not only collecting data but really turning it into something useful so you, as an insurance adjuster or as a roofer, are not just getting what you had before, which was maybe just a few photos of the building, but instead you're leaping ahead to more actionable information and intelligence that you can use to drive what you’re doing as a business and do it much faster," Pitman said.

The AI also allows the drone to chart its own path based on the necessary task, the specifics of that site and the regulations. It is able to determine the best way to fly the drone that accomplishes the task at hand, while also staying inside the law. 

Unlike other drone software, that keeps them flying on a set path, Converge's AI software allows the drone to fly on its own and adjust itself in real time.

"As the drone is capturing something, you can say, ‘Hey, this looks interesting, but we actually want to inspect this from a different angle,’ and you can instruct the AI to do that and the AI will figure out the best way to move the drone around to accomplish that task, to get better imagery, for example. Say that you’re looking at one corner of the building and you realize you want to swing around and look at the other corner, that can be very difficult. I’ve flown up 20 story buildings, you try to look at a drone that’s a foot across when it’s about 300 feet in the air and you can barely tell where the drone is. So trying to do something fully manually and get it to be in the exact right position is very hard," Pitman explained. 

"At the same time, saying before the drone even takes off, ‘Here’s exactly what I want you to do,’ when we don’t even have all the information, we may not know until the drones goes up in the air exactly what we want to look at. You have to go through this long, arduous process of landing, reviewing what happened, preventing a new flight. What we have found is having this collaborative AI really gives you the best of both worlds to get you the information you need in a very fast fashion."

Coverge's AI, he said is, "a step beyond what anyone else is doing in the drone industry."

The future of Converge

While Converge sells directly to drone providers, it also works directly with the insurance and construction companies themselves, which either already have their own drones that they upload Control Tower onto, or they can buy or lease a drone from Converse. All companies, whether they own a drone or lease it, pay a monthly subscription fee to use the software, the price of which depends on how many drone users it has. 

The company plans to use the new funding to expand its team, hiring business development and engineering professionals. It will also be expanding to additional industries, particularly working with drone service providers, which are usually smaller businesses that are operating as subcontractors for drones, and who service a wide variety of clients.

"We’ve found that working with these drone service provides, there’s just an endless stream of new types of customers that they’re getting," said Pitman. 

The company also said it wants to refine its software, which means further automating what their customers are doing.

"We want to be able to give them more immediate answers to what their real questions are because, at the end of the day, none of our users are buying drones for the sake of flying drones around. They’re buying drones because it’s a way to accelerate their business, to make their customers happier, to accelerate their revenue, and their accounts receivable. The closer we can get to providing them with the insights and the answers that they need to pursue those goals, the better job we’ve done as company to really provide a great experience for our customers.”

The future of drones

The end result of all of this is that Converse wants to untether the drone, to free it up to no longer be beholden to a human.

“The ultimate goal for Converge in five years is to have it to a state where the regulations have matured to a point that drones can act as not just a collaborative team member with you at a particular site or location, but one that’s even an independent team member," said Pitman.

"We want to go from that process of right now being a very collaborate team member where, due to FAA regulations, you essentially need to be in the same location as your drone, to moving to one beyond where you can work with the drone just like you’re tasking another team member."

If it sounds like a lot of Converge's future is dependent on the loosening of regulations, Pitman does not disagree, but he is optimistic about the chances of this happening. 

“With regulations there’s always the question of what is the task of the FAA, but it’s also not just the FAA that we think about when we talk about change in regulations. There’s many other countries; we’ve done work and had our product used in a few other locations and continents around the world. We find there that, depending on the local, civilian aviation authority, they are much more progressive in how they want to deploy and use drones. So when we start looking at where we can start operating as the drone being the independent team member that goes and flies on its own, within the next five years it’s an absolute certainty that that will be allowed," he said. 

Essentially, Pitman believes that as other countries around the world start to test out their drones, countries like the United States will follow suite. 

"The question is: how will that change propagate and ripple through the rest of the global regulatory environment? This is one of those cases where as soon as you see a lot of successful test cases and usages over time, in one area, for example, New Zealand has been very progressive about drone regulations, and has really been establishing themselves as a great place to start and do business using more advanced drone concepts, and proved that the safety there, that then bolsters the confidence of regulatory authorities, like the FAA, to ease the regulations, to work within their framework and the concerns that they have."