3D Robotics

Great analysis of VC funding for robotics startups in 2011

Hizook has a great analysis of VC funding for robotics companies in 2011. There isn't as much of it as you might expect (note that only one is for a UAV company, Helen Greiner's CyPhy Works, which has yet to release a product). Here's his explanation for why:

My hope is that robotics will get more love in the next year(s), but getting VC funding for robotics is a decidedly tough nut to crack.  Robotics companies have large capital requirements for robot hardware, few potential acquirers, and almost no "Google-scale" breakout success stories (ie. IPOs).  I mean, c'mon... one of the best known robotics companies, iRobot, has a market cap of just $700 Million.  This makes robotics a difficult sell to your typical VC firm.  My hope is that this list can give others courage to pursue "swing for the fences" type projects along with a source for robotics-friendly VC firms.

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  • 3D Robotics

    Chris Anderson

    Travis: Yes, 3D Robotics (the commercial arm of DIY Drones) has not taken any external funding. By maintaining full control we're able ensure that our top priority is serving the community, not some investor. 

  • Geoffrey L. Barrows

    @Travis-

    No doubt the FAA regulations are a serious impediment to commercial UAV development. Fifteen years ago, I knew folks at the nearby Naval Research Lab who would test out a "micro air vehicle" design by going out into the parking lot and fly it, nevermind that NRL was on the Potomac River, not far from the flight path of airplanes landing at nearby DCA airport! Ten years ago, I could go to one of several parks in DC (Kenilworth Park was a favorite) and fly, and when the police would come, it was so they could watch during one of their breaks (they would leave when we crashed). Now? Obviously very different.

    Even if it does change by 2015 (a deadline that could easily be extended by another law, which gets done all the time), the three years between now and then is a long time in a field that, as we see right here, is more rapidly innovating than ever before. Of course, you can avoid this by flying inside- that is still adequate to test out a large variety of things, especially for the smaller MAV-scale. (Example: Vijay Kumar's swarms in a post below.)

    A strange byproduct of these laws is that by limiting commercial use but allowing amateur use, the FAA is effectively promoting the amateur/hobby sector relative to everyone else. So perhaps these laws can be thought of as a 3-year (through 2015) chance for the open amateur / hobby community to get ahead. As time has shown in the past, the collective work of a bunch of amateurs can make huge early advances in a field. (Consider amateur radio and personal computers as two examples.) So:

    Prediction #1: Over the next few years, there will be more innovation in small UAVs among the hobby / open source community than among private enterprises.

    Prediction #2: The future Steve Jobs of UAVs is currently a member of this community, or will soon be (if he/she in 2012 is not yet old enough to join).

  • Matthew Schroyer

    @Travis, @Geoffry

    Right on the money. Absolutely FAA regulations are crimping growth in the UAS industry, and especially the sUAS industry. I can imagine the tepid reception any drone entrepreneur would have when he has to tell investors "my product isn't exactly legal yet, and I can't say for sure if it ever will be."

    I actually believe that "Google-scale" breakouts are possible with robotics, so long as the right "Google-scale" vision is in place. People need to think about accommodating entire industries by deploying versatile systems, rather that custom-built robotics for applications, but a large scale can be achieved. That shift in perspective can only be achieved when people are allowed to openly experiment and develop UAS technology. More applications will be discovered. But again, it's hard to think in such a wide scale when your service is being held back by a few lines of federal code.