Drone start-up flying high after big win in DC

Drone startup flying high

A drone start-up coming off a big win with the Federal Aviation Administration now has a fresh cash pile to put more planes in the air.

Washington, D.C.-based Measure announced Wednesday it completed a "significant" funding round for an undisclosed amount and will become independent from investment firm 32 Advisors. The 1-year-old "drone as a service" company uses the unmanned aircraft to gather data for clients in areas ranging from agriculture to insurance to disaster relief.

The cash stream comes shortly after Measure cleared a major hurdle with the FAA, which can give exceptions for commercial use in the absence of blanket regulations for businesses. Earlier this month, it gave Measure permission to deploy more than 300 models of the aircraft, more than any other commercial operator.

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Measure says the money will help it expand industrial offerings and open a new Texas office at a time when diverse sectors have started to experiment with the budding technology.

"We think that services are the future. Large customers won't have to worry about owning and operating their own drone fleet," Measure CEO Brandon Torres Declet told CNBC.

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The start-up already works with IBM, UPS and the American Red Cross, among others. It operates on the logic that its aircraft can help companies that otherwise could not afford or manage their own drones. Declet declined to give guidance on Measure's client base and sales, but said that the company has generated revenue "since the very beginning."

Drones hold enormous potential in taking pictures, gathering data and reaching difficult spots. Many existing customers have used a plan that starts at $50,000, but smaller businesses can access the drones at much lower price points.

Still, Measure's services are a bet with an uncertain return.

"We'll see what the demand is for this type of service. A lot of companies don't even realize what they can do with this technology," said David Swindell, director of the Center for Urban Innovation at Arizona State University and a drone policy expert.

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To help address those concerns, Measure has worked on a return on investment calculator to help agricultural clients gauge if the drones will pay off. He believes increasing scale in the coming years will help Measure make the services more affordable for smaller clients.

"I think there's an opportunity here for everyone at every price point," Declet said.

His growth optimism comes amid a messy legal landscape in the United States. Patchwork laws have sprung up around the country as the FAA works to release preliminary regulations for using the aircraft commercially. Regulators are also taking into account privacy concerns as more drones take flight.

However, Declet stressed that the FAA exception earlier this month gives Measure "all of the legal and regulatory approvals (it needs) to operate today."