Skydio’s enterprise pivot kicks off with a new drone

Last month, Skydio announced that it was shutting down its consumer drone business. DJI continues to dominate the category globally, but when the Shenzhen-based firm found itself on the wrong side of a U.S. government ban, Skydio was there to reap the benefit. The Bay Area company has since found success catering to the enterprise […]

Skydio closing consumer drone business

Skydio today announced that it will be shutting down its consumer drone business.

Beginning today, the firm will no longer be selling its Skydio 2+ Starter, Sports, Cinema or Pro kits, although it will continue to offer the Skydio 2+ Enterprise Kit to business customers. Skydio also promises to continue supporting those consumers who have already purchased a drone. That includes offering vehicle repairs and other support related to warranties. The company says it will also stock batteries, propellers and other accessories “for as long as we can.”

Skydio is closing up its consumer wing as it expands support for various enterprise offerings. The firm has established 1,500 clients that also include various public service applications.

Our drones are making the core industries that our civilization runs on – public safety, transportation, energy, construction, and defense – safer and more efficient,” founder Adam Bry writes in a post outlining the news. “And it’s becoming more and more clear every day that we need trusted, secure drones to meet these critical applications. The impact we’re having with our enterprise and public sector customers has become so compelling that it demands nothing less than our full focus and attention.”

The Bay Area-based Skydio has seen a massive boost, as drone giant DJI has landed on the wrong side of various government bans amid rising U.S./China tensions. It’s been a large driver in domestic security adoptions of its system. Government contracts are – understandably – an extremely enticing model than consumer sales. And besides, DJI continues to dominate that world.

Earlier this year, the company raised a $230 million Series E fundraising round.

Japan’s biggest drone maker sets its sights on the US

This week, ten-year-old drone company ACSL announced plans to enter the U.S. commercial drone market. The firm has already taken a sizable bite out of the market in its native Japan, with a certification from the country’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, as well as a deal to provide disaster support for the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. It says it’s the country’s largest by headcount, revenue and market cap.

The U.S. is a no-brainer for a company like ACSL. It’s a massive drone market, but government use has been stymied, in part by blacklisting. In October of last year, for instance, the Department of Defense included DJI on a list of “Chinese military companies.” It noted in a release:

The Department is determined to highlight and counter the PRC Military-Civil Fusion strategy, which supports the modernization goals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by ensuring its access to advanced technologies and expertise are acquired and developed by PRC companies, universities, and research programs that appear to be civilian entities.

That’s just one in a small list of issues DJI, based in Shenzhen, has faced in the States, as the U.S. government began tightening restrictions during the Trump presidency. Those problems have only continued to mount for the drone maker, which currently commands more than 70% of the global market.

While DJI drones have remained popular among consumers, government contracts have been an entirely different story. The bans have proven a boon for U.S.-based Skydio, which hit a $2.2 billion valuation in February, months after scoring several large government contracts.

This news finds ACSL building out its U.S. team.

“ACSL has been working hard to establish itself in its home market with a lineup that has consistently proven itself as a reliable tool that delivers results,” Global CTO Chris Raabe said in a release. “We began arranging product demos for potential US clients late last year. With the opening of our subsidiary here in California, I am making the US my base, to be personally involved in our activity in the field, meeting these clients, demonstrating our capabilities, and learning about their needs.”

The SOTEN will be the first of ACSL’s products to be available stateside. The folding drone, which hit the Japanese market in 2021, bears more than a passing resemblance to DJI’s popular Mavic line. Exact timeline and pricing have not been announced. The company only says that it “will be offering a competitively priced NDAA compliant small drone to the US market later this year.”

Japan’s biggest drone maker sets its sights on the US by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Skydio soars to a $2.2 billion valuation after raising $230m Series E

Drones are quickly becoming more than a flying selfie cameras. Amid growing geopolitical tensions, drone makers are seeing increased demand and acceptance as drones move farther from consumers’ hands.

Skydio today announced a $230 million series E fundraising round and the construction of a new manufacturing facility in America. The company says it’s seen a 30x growth over the last three years and is now the largest drone manufacturer in the United States. The Series E round was led by Linse Capital, with participation from existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Next47, IVP, DoCoMo, NVIDIA, the Walton Family Foundation, and UP.Partners. Hercules Capital, and Axon, the company behind the Taser and police body cameras, also invested in Skydio.

Skydio says its drones are used in every branch of the U.S. Department of Defense, by over half of all U.S. State Departments of Transportation, and by over 200 public safety agencies in 47 states. But, of course, it helps that government agencies cannot purchase or use drones from the market leader DJI because of security concerns.

In a released statement, Skydio co-founder and CEO Adam Bry says the company sees “extraordinary demand globally from organizations addressing needs important to every citizen.” This includes, in his view, core industries such as transportation, public safety, energy, construction, communications, defense, and more.

Skydio sets itself apart from the competition on its autonomous capabilities. The company had viral success with its original drone that featured a market-leading collision avoidance detection. The company still offers such capabilities but has pushed the industry forward with additional features and capabilities. Last December, Skydio announced a docking station and a new platform that allows drone operators to be flown without an on-site operator. Current regulations around visual piloting limit this product, but Skydio has a solution for that, too, and now works with companies to expand their drone programs.

The new Skydio manufacturing facility is based in Hayward, CA. The facility is 36,000 square feet, a 10x increase in capacity over current levels. In addition, the company expects to hire 150 manufacturing employees to staff the new facility.

Skydio soars to a $2.2 billion valuation after raising $230m Series E by Matt Burns originally published on TechCrunch

Skydio takes flight with new drone docking stations for easy remote deployment

Autonomous drones have a tremendous amount of potentially valuable use cases, but even if the drones have the smarts to go and do their jobs by themselves they need to come home to base to recharge. Skydio today announced a new series of docks that represents the next step in the company’s journey toward deploy-anywhere autonomous flying worker bees.

The company claims that its freshly launched Dock and Dock Lite are deserving of a swarm of superlatives, describing them as the “smallest, lightest, and smartest cloud-connected base stations for drones available on the market today.” The dock solutions are designed to give the company’s customers the power to run site inspections as well as monitoring, mapping and situational awareness tasks from anywhere in the world at any time. Relying on its new Remote Ops software, the AI models to keep the drones on task, the systems can operate both indoors and outdoors.

The selling point is obvious; skilled, licensed drone operators that are able to operate beyond line-of-sight are expensive. Being able to remote-control them rather than having to bring them on-site is very appealing. Skydio drones housed in Dock and Dock Lite can fly with a single off-site operator, or autonomously.

The new Skydio Dock. Image Credits: Skydio.

“The concept of remotely operated drones is incredibly compelling,” said Adam Bry, CEO of Skydio in a press statement. “It has attracted a gaggle of activity from startups and established manual drone companies, but it’s never going to work the way customers want — let alone scale to address real-world applications solving the needs of today — unless you can trust the drone to fly itself. And making drones smart enough to fly themselves is our core focus.”

The gaggle of startups Bry is referring to might include Matternet and Airobotics, which both raised significant funds and started deploying autonomous drone solutions over the last few years.

“Skydio Dock and Skydio Dock Lite, combined with our Remote Ops software, deliver autonomous capabilities for our customers, whether they are monitoring their warehouses, inspecting a security perimeter, or assessing infrastructure following a natural disaster — finally realizing the promise of efficient, scaleable remote operations,” says Bry.

Skydio’s new Remote Ops UI. Image Credit: Skydio

Deploying drones in compliance with the FAA isn’t trivial, and it’s encouraging to see that Skydio has a regulatory team to help its customers make the case for remote operations, obtaining approvals and the necessary blessings from the aviation regulators.

Skydio takes flight with new drone docking stations for easy remote deployment by Haje Jan Kamps originally published on TechCrunch

Robotics scene continues to be bullish, but layoffs are looming

This startup season is filled with goals of profitability, promises of higher margins and whispers about pivoting toward sustainability. So when it comes to robotics, a capital-intensive sector that has a longer sales time horizon and loads of infrastructure hurdles, tensions feel inevitable.

Or at least, you’d think. Crunchbase data shows that, despite a creaky market, venture funding for robotics startups remains strong. It’s a dissonance worth exploring, so that’s exactly what we did at TC Sessions: Robotics 2022 with investors Kelly Chen, partner at DCVC, Bruce Leak, founder of Playground Global and Helen H. Liang, founder of FoundersX Ventures. The trio of investors spoke about how the ambitious sector is surpassing some of the downturn’s harshest symptoms.

The answer includes a shift in investment strategy and Amazon.

No more moody robotic arms, please

Lumos wants to build an app store for the enterprise

Lumos, a startup that wants to provide an end-to-end solution for enterprises to manage all of the SaaS apps their employees use, is coming out of stealth today. The company plans to take on the SaaS management market by combining security features like role-based access control that IT departments need with the self-service capabilities that employees want and the spending reports (and ability to shut down unused accounts) that the finance department needs.

Lumos also today announced that it has raised a total of over $30 million from the likes of Andreesen Horowitz, Neo, Lachy Groom, Google Cloud CISO Phil Venables, OpenAI CTO Greg Brockman and others. 

At its core, Lumos replaces IT tickets with a self-service portal for employees. The team argues that as enterprises increasingly rely on SaaS applications, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for businesses to manage them. Often, this means an added bureaucratic layer of IT tickets to gain access to a service and additional costs for SaaS licenses for users who may not even be using a service or who may have left the company — all while it’s almost impossible for IT and security teams to keep up with the inevitable rise of shadow IT as employees try to route around these systems.

The promise of Lumos is that it can provide access controls but also provide a self-service portal to employees and automatically recognize when a user stops using a SaaS tool, for example, and then de-provision those accounts to save on licensing cost.

Image Credits: Lumos

“As the world has shifted from ‘bring your own device’ to ‘bring your own app’ and now ‘bring your own office,’ the challenge of shadow IT has only continued to compound. We’re very excited to partner with the Lumos team as they build the tool that can bring light to this darkness,” said Peter Levine, a general partner at Andreesen Horowitz.

As Lumos co-founder Andrej Safundzic told me, the idea for Lumos was born out of a privacy-and ethics-focused class he and his co-founder Leo Mehr took at Stanford (with Alan Flores-Lopez rounding out the co-founding team shortly after). That class, he said, made him realize how consumers may have password managers to secure their accounts but no easy way to manage the user accounts they likely have across hundreds of services.

“Then I looked at my phone — and my phone was beautiful, right? I have everything in my home screen,” Safundzic said. “I can delete what I want. I can go to settings and disable location sharing for Facebook. The App Store on Apple made this such a beautiful integrated platform. But if you look at the web, you have 100 websites, Figma, Airtable, Smartsheet — everything. So we just said: hey, let’s create that app store for the web.”

Image Credits: Lumos

That’s still the long-term goal today, but to get started, the team decided to focus on companies because, Safundzic frankly admitted, that’s an easier business model.

Since most services have open APIs to allow Lumos to create and delete accounts, the team didn’t even need to build a partnership team to support get started. The service integrates with existing IT systems, so tickets are still created to ensure everything is logged, but Lumos then orchestrates everything in the background. It supports services like Okta, OneLogin, Google and Azure AD for identify and access management and easy account provisioning for services like Zoom, Salesforce, AWS and Datadog. Like any modern service that focuses on workflows, it also integrates with Slack (with Teams support coming soon).

With Torii, BetterCloud, Intello and others, there are obviously quite a few SaaS management services on the market already. This is, after all, a massive problem for businesses. But the Lumos team argues that these are not end-to-end solutions and don’t offer all of the compliance, self-service and automation features its tool offers.

It’s worth noting that Safundzic has a bit of previous startup experience. Before co-founding Lumos, Safundzic built Tech4Germany, a GovTech startup that was acquired by the German Federal Chancellery.

Today, Lumos already has over 30 employees. Current users include the likes of BuzzFeed, Dialpad, Mixpanel, Skydio and Vox Media.

Skydio debuts updated $1099 self-flying drone with new bells and whistles

Skydio’s self-flying drone is getting a host of new software, hardware and services updates to ring in the new year.

The Bay Areas-based drone company is revamping their flagship drone with a number of features designed around usability, along with a major software update focused on bringing more control to users without forcing them to take manual control of the drone. The team is also delivering a new service plan called Skydio Care designed to give drone owners a protection plan that supplements their existing warranty but allows for rapid replacement of accidentally damaged devices.

Over the past several years, Skydio has been in an interesting position as a young American drone company with both consumer and enterprise clients. The startups has raised more than $340 million from top venture capitalists on the promise it can take drones mainstream with AI-aided controls that simplify user onboarding.

Its latest device — an updated version of its Skydio 2 drone called the Skydio 2+ — aims to serve both customers. The big update here increased flight range thanks to 5Ghz Wifi radio and two pop-up antennas which extend maximum range from 3.5 km to 6 km. The 2+ also sports a higher-density battery pack which adds a few minutes to its maximum flight time, now 27 minutes.

As has always been the case, the star of this drone is its computer vision-aided intelligence which allows the drone to pilot itself using a series of onboard cameras. The company is expanding its ambitions with a new software feature called KeyFrame, which will be available for both the Skydio 2+ and original Skydio 2.

The AI-powered feature allows for more cinematic capture by giving the user the power to define the individual shots they want to capture with the device’s app but then allowing the Skydio drone to handle the trouble of moving between those shots while creating a sweeping video that nails all of the key points of interest.

The software feature is one of the most powerful yet to come to the device and may help onboard enterprise clients who are still skittish to play around with the self-flying drones software. Skydio has another effort to entice the nervous: a new service plan called Skydio Plus which brings flat rate accidental damage repair to the device. Users will be able to choose 1-year or 2-year support plans for $149 and $249 respectively which allow users to replace broken or lost drones for flat rates. The first replacement of a damaged drone will cost just $150 for subscribers while a lost drone will require users to pay up $550 to replace it under the extended warranty plan.

The Skydio 2+, which starts at $1,099 for a basic package and taps out at $2,169 for a Pro Kit is available for order now.


Playbyte’s new app aims to become the ‘TikTok for games’

A startup called Playbyte wants to become the TikTok for games. The company’s newly launched iOS app offers tools that allow users to make and share simple games on their phone, as well as a vertically scrollable, fullscreen feed where you can play the games created by others. Also like TikTok, the feed becomes more personalized over time to serve up more of the kinds of games you like to play.

While typically, game creation involves some aspect of coding, Playbyte’s games are created using simple building blocks, emoji and even images from your Camera Roll on your iPhone. The idea is to make building games just another form of self-expression, rather than some introductory, educational experience that’s trying to teach users the basics of coding.

At its core, Playbyte’s game creation is powered by its lightweight 2D game engine built on web frameworks, which lets users create games that can be quickly loaded and played even on slow connections and older devices. After you play a game, you can like and comment using buttons on the right-side of the screen, which also greatly resembles the TikTok look-and-feel. Over time, Playbyte’s feed shows you more of the games you enjoyed as the app leverages its understanding of in-game imagery, tags and descriptions, and other engagement analytics to serve up more games it believes you’ll find compelling.

At launch, users have already made a variety of games using Playbyte’s tools — including simulators, tower defense games, combat challenges, obbys, murder mystery games, and more.

According to Playbyte founder and CEO Kyle Russell — previously of Skydio, Andreessen Horowitz, and (disclosure!) TechCrunch — Playbyte is meant to be a social media app, not just a games app.

“We have this model in our minds for what is required to build a new social media platform,” he says.

What Twitter did for text, Instagram did for photos and TikTok did for video was to combine a constraint with a personalized feed, Russell explains. “Typically. [they started] with a focus on making these experiences really brief…So a short, constrained format and dedicated tools that set you up for success to work within that constrained format,” he adds.

Similarly, Playbyte games have their own set of limitations. In addition to their simplistic nature, the games are limited to five scenes. Thanks to this constraint, a format has emerged where people are making games that have an intro screen where you hit “play,” a story intro, a challenging gameplay section, and then a story outro.

In addition to its easy-to-use game building tools, Playbyte also allows game assets to be reused by other game creators. That means if someone who has more expertise makes a game asset using custom logic or which pieced together multiple components, the rest of the user base can benefit from that work.

“Basically, we want to make it really easy for people who aren’t as ambitious to still feel like productive, creative game makers,” says Russell. “The key to that is going to be if you have an idea — like an image of a game in your mind — you should be able to very quickly search for new assets or piece together other ones you’ve previously saved. And then just drop them in and mix-and-match — almost like Legos — and construct something that’s 90% of what you imagined, without any further configuration on your part,” he says.

In time, Playbyte plans to monetize its feed with brand advertising, perhaps by allowing creators to drop sponsored assets into their games, for instance. It also wants to establish some sort of patronage model at a later point. This could involve either subscriptions or even NFTs of the games, but this would be further down the road.

The startup had originally began as a web app in 2019, but at the end of last year, the team scrapped that plan and rewrote everything as a native iOS app with its own game engine. That app launched on the App Store this week, after previously maxing out TestFlight’s cap of 10,000 users.

Currently, it’s finding traction with younger teenagers who are active on TikTok and other collaborative games, like Roblox, Minecraft, or Fortnite.

“These are young people who feel inspired to build their own games but have been intimidated by the need to learn to code or use other advanced tools, or who simply don’t have a computer at home that would let them access those tools,” notes Russell.

Playbyte is backed by $4 million in pre-seed and seed funding from investors including FirstMark (Rick Heitzmann), Ludlow Ventures (Jonathon Triest and Blake Robbins), Dream Machine (former Editor-in-Chief at TechCrunch, Alexia Bonatsos), and angels such as Fred Ehrsam, co-founder of Coinbase; Nate Mitchell, co-founder of Oculus; Ashita Achuthan, previously of Twitter; and others.

The app is a free download on the App Store.

Equity Monday: More venture money for Europe, and public companies blast off

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and be sure to check out our most recent Friday episode, which featured news on Finix and Coinbase and Reddit, among others.

(Also don’t forget that Equity is growing! And TechCrunch events are about to kick off and kick some butt.)

Here’s what we got into this fine Monday morning:

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

Early Stage is the premiere ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included in each for audience questions and discussion.