Posts from drones

Dronebase Goes Thermal

Our portfolio company Dronebase is announcing some big news today.

They are going to be offering thermal imaging missions in partnership with FLIR, the leading provider of thermal sensors. And FLIR has made a strategic investment in Dronebase.

What is thermal imaging? Thermal imagery, which is also called infrared imagery, is the ability to see a much larger portion of the electromagnetic spectrum than what is visible to the eye. This page from FLIR’s website does a good job of explaining the technology.

If you put a FLIR thermal sensor on a drone, you can learn a lot more about buildings, equipment, terrain, etc, etc. The military sector has been doing this for years and the commercial sector is starting to use the technology a lot now too.

Here is an image of a roof captured with a traditional drone camera:

And here is an image of a roof captured with a drone using a FLIR thermal sensor:

This drone mission, recently run by Dronebase, identified water damage and leakage on this roof.

So what is the big deal here?

Dronebase offers the world’s largest drone pilot network. They have pilots all over the world who are skilled at operating commercial drone missions. And they have an API that captures information from drone missions at scale. Now enterprise customers can use their pilot network and API to capture thermal imagery. This will significantly reduce the cost and increase the availability of drone-based thermal imagery to enterprises of all sizes and locations.

If you want to learn more, you can contact Dronebase here and start using thermal imagery to improve your business operations.

The Dronebase API – Assign Drone Missions Directly In Your Workflow

Our portfolio company DroneBase announced another round of funding today but the more exciting thing to me is that they have built out and are scaling the operational layer for the drone industry.

From their announcement:

DroneBase recently completed over 100,000 commercial drone missions for enterprise clients across various industries such as real estate, insurance, telecommunications, construction, and media. The company has the largest, most engaged and skilled drone pilot network, having grown it 10x year over year for the past two years. Through this network, DroneBase is able to turn around a client mission in less than 48 hours anywhere in the United States, since its pilots are active in all 50 states and over 60 countries.

And you can access that network via the Dronebase API.

So if you are in the insurance, real estate, construction, media, or telecom business and need to acquire aerial imagery on a regular basis, you can connect your internal systems to Dronebase’s pilot network via this API and assign missions directly from your applications.

More and more of Dronebase’s customers and channel partners are operating this way which is driving the 10x annual growth in mission volumes I cited above.

Drones allow companies to do things less expensively or more safely (roof inspections) or do things that could not previously be done cost effectively (monitor a construction site) and missions are incredibly affordable on the Dronebase network (low hundreds of dollars) and all of this is available programmatically which drives operational efficiencies. If you think your company could benefit from working with the Dronebase Pilot Network, you can contact Dronebase here.

Feature Friday: AirCraft By Dronebase

I hesitate to call this a feature, even though it is, as AirCraft is a way bigger deal than a new feature.

Our portfolio company Dronebase operates the largest drone pilot network in the world. Tens of thousands of pilots fly missions for Dronebase and the Dronebase mobile apps are used by most of these pilots to do these missions. Pilots connect their mobile phones to their drone consoles and the smartphone adds a lot of capability during the mission.

So what else can a smartphone do for a drone mission? Well it can add augmented reality.

AirCraft is the first augmented reality drone platform for commercial and recreational activities.

What AirCraft is, at the most fundamental level, is the ability for the drone to be a cursor in the sky.

AirCraft allows drone pilots to make something like this in the sky:

AirCraft is available in the Dronebase iPhone Pilot App today and will be available in the Dronebase Android app later this year.

If you want to build a virtual drone race course, you can do that with AirCraft.

If you want to build a flight plan for a drone pilot to do a regular survey of your radio tower, you can do that with AirCraft.

If you want to build a virtual city in the sky, you can do that with AirCraft.

The possibilities are endless, kind of like Minecraft in the sky.

So if you have a drone and the Dronebase iPhone app, you have AirCraft and you can get going on building things in the sky.

Creative Missions For Drone Pilots

Our portfolio company Dronebase announced something interesting and fun this week. They have partnered with Getty Images to provide opportunities for drone pilots to fly “creative missions”:

Before today, DroneBase pilots had access to just two types of missions: client missions and panomissions,  both of which have unique photography specifications. Today, we’re excited to introduce Getty Creative Missions as a third opportunity for our pilot community.

For the first time ever, drone pilots have an opportunity to flex their creative muscles for a chance to have their work to be featured on Getty Images for purchase.

If you are a drone pilot, amateur or pro, and want to fly these creative missions and sell your work via Getty, download the Dronebase iPhone App or log into their website and follow the “Get On Getty” links.

To kick off this partnership, Getty and Dronebase are running a campaign called Cityscapes:

We’re excited to kick off our Getty partnership with a “Cityscapes” theme, a call for the best metropolitan aerial submissions from around the world.

So if you are a drone pilot and live or work in or near a city, take your drone out and capture some amazing cityscapes and submit them to Dronebase. They may end up on Getty Images and start earning you money.

There are a lot of things that excite me about this partnership, but maybe the biggest thing for me is how it reveals the core mission of Dronebase which is to give drone pilots lots of fun and rewarding things to do with their drones. And this is just the beginning. If you have a drone and want to do more with it, get the iPhone app or join via their website and start doing fun and rewarding missions with Dronebase.

Dronebase API and Dronebase Pilot

I love it when companies quickly get into a market, start delivering a product or service, and then, over time iterate on their products and services to expand the market and their share of it. Contrast that with a company spending years getting something right before shipping their first product. I much prefer the ship quickly, get customers, and iterate and automate approach.

Our portfolio company Dronebase is very much using the iterate and automate playbook. As I posted about here a few months ago, they offered their first commercial drone flight in January 2015 and two years later they did their 10,000th drone flight. All during that time, they were automating much of the workflow for their customers, their pilots, and inside their operations.

Over the past ten days, they have shipped two things that demonstrate how highly automated the drone flight process has become.

On March 9th, Dronebase launched the “Enterprise API” with this blog post. I tweeted out the news:

And today, Dronebase is launching the Dronebase Pilot iOS app, which looks like this on a DJI drone:

As Dronebase cofounder and CTO Eli Tamanaha explains in this post:

The app can now connect to your drone to help you fly. Similar to how you use the DJI Go app, just dock your iPhone or iPad to your drone’s controller, open the app, and launch the drone. You’ll be able to see the 1st person point-of-view from the drone’s camera, shoot photos and videos, and control settings like camera angle.

Our goal, as an engineering team, is to keep drone pilots doing what they love – flying. The more we can streamline the busy work, the administrative stuff like classifying and uploading imagery, the better.

So with the API and the Pilot app, a mission can move from an enterprise customers’ application (like an insurance company’s adjusting workflow application) to a pilot’s phone without any human being touching that mission. And the imagery can flow back from the pilot’s phone back to the enterprise application in the same way.

That’s how you automate something after you’ve figured out what the market wants and how to deliver it. Instead of building all of this stuff before launching, Dronebase starting doing missions and listening to customers and pilots and then went out and built a crack engineering team under the leadership of Eli and started automating the process in the way the market wanted it.

The result will be a much larger available market for drone imagery, or as Dronebase calls it “Air Support For Every Business”. Because if you are a large enterprise with a need for hundreds or thousands of missions, you can programmatically issue (via the API) those missions from your existing workflow and applications and you can get these missions done for somewhere between $50 and $300 per mission. That’s the power of automation and scale at work.  Which will massively expand the market for what enterprises can use drones for. Which will, in turn, mean orders of magnitude more flights for drone pilots to do. A win/win for everyone.

10,000 Commercial Drone Flights

Two years ago, on January 30th, 2015, Dronebase founder Dan Burton flew a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ drone over a quarry in southern Orange County California and captured a TNT explosion in the quarry that turned big rocks into little rocks.

Dan was paid $300 by the quarry owner to do the mission.

And thus, our portfolio company Dronebase was created. USV invested a few months later as Dan and his partner Eli were doing Y Combinator.

In a remarkable coincidence, two years later to the day, a drone pilot in Boston named Michael K completed Dronebase’s 10,000th mission, flying a DJI Inspire One Pro drone over a construction site.

The first 100 missions took eight months to complete, the next 900 flights took nine months to complete, and the last 9,000 flights took 10 months to complete. As I told Dan over email yesterday, I am expecting the 100,000th flight before year end. He groaned. Growing at log scale is hard. But that’s what they are doing.

The key insight that Dan had was that a network of freelance drone pilots all over the world working on a platform designed to to get drone pilots working within hours of a job coming in would drive that kind of scale. And it has. In addition, Dronebase is committed to delivering commercial grade drone flights at prices that customers can afford.

If you are paying more than a few hundred dollars for a commercial grade drone mission, you are paying too much. By driving down the cost of drone missions, Dronebase has brought a lot of work to its pilots an has paid them over $1mm over the last two years and that number is now scaling rapidly. Driving down the cost of drone missions also opens up applications that are not cost effective at higher prices. And that scales the size of the available market for drones.

It’s the classic story of the power of networks. Dronebase is a network of drone pilots doing commercial missions all over the world. And I’m convinced that is the winning model in the commercial drone services sector.

Dan wrote a really great post yesterday celebrating their 10,000th mission with a lot of interesting details on the first and 10,000th mission. You can read it here.

Congratulations to Dronebase and all of its pilots on completing 10,000 missions. I’m looking forward to writing about the 100,000th flight soon.

What Did And Did Not Happen In 2016

As has become my practice, I will end the year (today) looking back and start the year (tomorrow) looking forward.

As a starting point for looking back on 2016, we can start with my What Is Going To Happen In 2016 post from Jan 1st 2016.

Easy to build content (apps) on a cheap widespread hardware platform (smartphones) beat out sophisticated and high resolution content on purpose built expensive hardware (content on VR headsets). We re-learned an old lesson: PC v. mainframe and Mac; Internet v. ISO; VHS v. Betamax; and Android v. iPhone.

And Fitbit proved that the main thing people want to do with a computer on their wrist is help them stay fit. And yet Fitbit ended the year with its stock near its all time low. Pebble sold itself in a distressed transaction to Fitbit. And Apple’s Watch has not gone mainstream two versions into its roadmap.

  • I thought one of the big four (Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon) would falter in 2016. All produced positive stock performance in 2016. None appear to have faltered in a huge way in 2016. But Apple certainly seems wobbly. They can’t make laptops that anyone wants to use anymore. It’s no longer a certainty that everyone is going to get a new iPhone when the new one ships. The iPad is a declining product. The watch is a mainstream flop. And Microsoft is making better computers than Apple (and maybe operating systems too) these days. You can’t make that kind of critique of Google, Amazon, or Facebook, who all had great years in my book.
  • I predicted the FAA regulations would be a boon to the commercial drone industry. They have been.
  • I predicted publishing inside of Facebook was going to go badly for some high profile publishers in 2016. That does not appear to have been the case. But the ugly downside of Facebook as a publishing platform revealed itself in the form of a fake news crisis that may (or may not) have impacted the Presidential election.
  • Instead of spinning out HBO into a direct Netflix competitor, Time Warner sold itself to AT&T. This allows AT&T to join Comcast and Verizon in the “carriers becoming content companies” club. It seems that the executives who run these large carriers believe it is better to use their massive profits in the carrier business to move up the stack into content instead of continuing to invest in their communications infrastructure. It makes me want to invest in communications infrastructure honestly.
  • Bitcoin found no killer app in 2016, but did find itself the darling of the trader/speculator crowd, ending the year on a killer run and almost breaking the $1000 USD/BTC level. Maybe Bitcoin’s killer app is its value and/or store of value. That would make it the digital equivalent of gold and the likely reserve currency of the digital asset space. And I think that is what has happened with Bitcoin. And there is nothing wrong with that.
  • Slack had a good year in 2016, solidifying its position as the leading communications tool for enterprises (other than email of course). It did have some growing pains as there was a fair bit of executive turmoil. But I think Slack is here to stay and I think they can withstand the growing competition coming from Microsoft’s Teams product and others.
  • I was right that Donald Trump would get the Republican nomination and that the tech sector (with the exception of Peter Thiel and a few other liked minded people) would line up against him. It did not matter. He won the Presidency without the support of the tech sector, but by using its tools (Twitter and Facebook primarily) brilliantly.
  • I predicted “markdown mania” would hit the tech sector hard and employees would start getting cold feet on startups as they saw the value of their options going down. None of this really happened in a big way in 2016. There was some of that and employees are certainly more attuned to how they can get hurt in a down round or recap, but the tech sector has also used a lot of techniques, including repricing options, reloading option plans, and moving to RSUs, to mitigate this. The truth is that startups, venture capital, and tech growth companies had a pretty good year in 2016 all things considered.

So that’s the rundown on my 2016 predictions. I would give myself about a 50% hit rate. Which is not great but not horrible and about the same as I did last year.

Some other things that happened in 2016 that are important and worth talking about are:

  • The era of cyberwars are upon us. Maybe we have been fighting them silently for years. But we are not fighting them silently any more. We are fighting them out in the open. I suspect there is a lot that the public still doesn’t know about what is actually going on in this area. We know what Russia has done in the Presidential election and since then. But what has the US been doing to Russia? I would assume the same and maybe more. If your enemy has the keys to your castle, you had better have the keys to their castle. And as good as the Russians are at hacking into systems, the US has some great hackers too. I am very sure about that.  And so do the Chinese, the Israelis, the Indians, the British, the Germans, the French, the Japanese, etc, etc.  This feels a bit like the Nuclear era redux. Mutually assured destruction is a deterrent as long as both sides have the same tools.
  • The tech sector is no longer the belle of the ball. It has, on one hand become extremely powerful with monopolies, duopolies, or nearly so in search, social media, ecommerce, online advertising, and mobile operating systems. And it has, on the other hand, proven that it is susceptible to the very kinds of bad behavior that every other large industry is capable of. And we now have an incoming President who doesn’t share the love of the tech sector that our outgoing President showed. It brings to mind that scene in 48 Hours where Eddie Murphy throws the shot glass through the mirror and explains to the rednecks that there is a new sheriff in town. But this time, the tech sector are the rednecks.
  • Google and Facebook now control ~75% of the online advertising market and almost all of its growth in 2016:

  • Artificial Intelligence has inserted itself into our every day lives. Whether its a home speaker system that we can talk to, or a social network that already knows what we are about to go out and purchase, or a car that can park itself and change lanes on the highway automatically, we are seeing AI take over tasks that we used to have to do ourselves. We are in the age of AI. It is not something that is coming. It is here. It may have arrived in 2014, or 2015, but if you ask me, I would put 2016 as the year it had its debut in mainstream life. It is exciting and it is scary. It begs all sorts of questions about where we are all going in the next thirty to fifty years. If you are in your twenties, AI will define your lifetime.

So that’s my rundown on 2016. I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year and we will talk about the future, not the past, tomorrow.

If you are in need of a New Year’s Resolution, I suggest moving to super secure passwords and some sort of tool to manage them for you, using two factor authentication whenever and wherever possible, encrypt as much of your online activities as you reasonably can, and not saying or doing anything online that you would not do in public, because that is where you are doing it.

Happy New Year!

The Dronebase Pilot Program

Our portfolio company Dronebase launched a new service yesterday that everyone who owns a drone should check out. They call it the Pilot Program. Basically any drone pilot that owns a drone with the right capabilities can now fly missions for Dronebase.

For several years Dronebase has been connecting drone pilots with aerial imaging jobs in industry sectors like commercial real estate, residential real estate, construction, insurance, energy, and telecommunications. Dronebase’s sales force calls on companies in these sectors, gets assigned aerial imaging missions, and then assigns those missions to drone pilots in their pilot marketplace. This “go to market” model has resulted in Dronebase initiating more commercial drone flights per month than any other company in the market. Revenues will to grow 7x from 2015 to 2016 and they probably will do something like that again in 2017.

But the Dronebase founders have not been happy with their ability to generate work for as many pilots as they can. They know that there are many drone owners who would love to fly commercial missions if they could. So Dronebase launched the Pilot Program this week after beta testing it for the past few months. Here is how it works:

dronebase-pilot-program

Drone pilots can do “Pano Missions” on spec and “Client Missions” for a guaranteed payment.

Here’s how you do a Pano Mission:

pano-missions

And here is how you do a Client Mission:

client-missions

If you own a drone and want to pilot commercial missions, go to Dronebase and sign up. You can also download the Dronebase iOS app and browse and accept jobs on your iPhone. An Android app is under development and will be coming soon.

Happy flying!!!