The commercial drone industry is seeing explosive growth, and one start-up is betting that the real money will come from delivering drone software and services — rather than manufacturing the flying devices themselves.
"We doubled our team in the last six months, and we doubled the capabilities of our product," said DroneDeploy CEO Michael Winn. "The market has been reacting by flying a lot more drones over a lot more things."
DroneDeploy aims to build the go-to operating system for drones.
Its software automates drone flight, allowing users to fly drones made by market leader DJI with the tap of a mobile app. The drone flies a path preset by the user and captures images of the ground. Users then upload the aerial images to the cloud where DroneDeploy's software analyzes the data to create interactive maps and 3-D models. It offers a free service for casual users, but most business users pay for higher levels of service that range from $99 to $299 a month.
DroneDeploy also launched an app store in November, which lets developers sell custom apps for industry verticals, and in February it hired two new executives, from Salesforce and Netsuite, to help service larger customers and announced a deal with premium drone manufacturer Aeryon.
The Federal Aviation Administration passed new rules for commercial drones in June, and that has helped propel the industry forward. Construction companies are the fastest-growing part of the drone software business, said Winn.
Among the company's construction customers are Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors, one of the nation's biggest privately held contractors; and Rogers-O'Brien, a leading general contractor in Texas.
"Construction companies have been some of the first to get certified and get drones active on their construction sites," he said. "We are just doing bigger deals."
In February, DroneDeploy announced a deal with agricultural equipment retailer CNH Industrial to bundle its software with their drones.
"Drones have become farm machinery," said Winn. "They are trying to provide the full solution." CNH has more than 1,000 stores nationwide.
Growers can download apps — including one from John Deere — to examine crops and detect parasites and fungi, generate variable plans for targeted use of pesticide and nutrients, negotiate with insurers when crops are lost and assess and clean up after storm or tornado damage, among other things.
DroneDeploy users have mapped and analyzed more than 8 million acres in over 135 countries — the largest drone-gathered data set from the largest number of customers in the world — and the data is doubling every four months, said DroneDeploy chief of product Jono Millin.
Founded in 2013, the company has raised $31 million in venture capital funding at an $83.3 million valuation, according to PitchBook. It is now seeing "explosive growth," said Winn.
"We doubled our team in the last six months, and we doubled the capabilities of our product," he said. "The market has been reacting by flying a lot more drones over a lot more things."