Commercial drone startups are flying high in 2015.
High-profile startups such as 3D Robotics have, between them, already raised a significant $50 million in funding this year. Major companies such as General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) and Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) are investing to help fund the take-off of commercial unmanned vehicles (UAVs). Venture capital firms have already started to get on the drone bandwagon in 2014.
CBI Insights says that venture funding reached $108 million in 29 deals in 2014, more than double the previous year.
"Year-over-year funding increased 104% as venture firms including Lightspeed Venture Partners, GGV Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, among others, jumped into the drone space with sizeable bets," the analyst firm notes on its blog.
Not all of these bets will pay off, of course. There are still wide differences in how commercial drones are regulated around the world. Issues such as how to set up traffic control systems for this new class of aircraft are yet to be fully resolved and are particularly crucial in the US, which has a number of privately owned aircraft flying in its airspace that are not equipped with the type of sophisticated location equipment used by military aircraft or commercial jet-liners. (See FAA Lays Out First Proposal for Small Drones .)
Standards around developing and programming drones are also an issue. (See Qualcomm, Intel Back Drones Code Project.)
Drones, however, are already starting to claim their place as the aerial wing of the Internet of Things (IoT): Initial applications include capturing footage for movies, TV, and documentaries, and data collection for agricultural and construction projects.
Early communications-specific applications will include using drones to provide ad-hoc, temporary wireless coverage for first responders. This could expand into more ambitious networking projects in the coming years, with Facebook and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) pushing ambitious plans for high-altitude communications drones. (See Forget the Internet, Brace for Skynet.)
As this market develops, which startups are making their mark? We picked out ten to watch -- check out the details on the next two pages of this Prime Reading report.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading