3D Robotics

Announcing the next era at 3D Robotics

3689485855?profile=originalYou may have seen the news that 3D Robotics has just announced a $30 million Series B investment, led by some blue-chip VC firms, including Foundry and True (investors in MakerBot and other open source companies such as WordPress/Automattic). You can see Foundry's announcement post here.

This is our second funding round (the Series A was November last year), and each round reflects a new era of the company. Because 3DR started in this community, which I created one weekend six years ago, I wanted to take a moment to talk a little about our evolution as a company and what it means for users, developers and the community as a whole. 

Our first phase as a company (2009) was led by my co-founder, Jordi Munoz, and it looked like this:

3689550687?profile=originalJordi hand-soldering original ArduPilot shields

3689550760?profile=originalMy kids packing up Blimpduino kits at the dining room table

Jordi then built up a proper manufacturing operation, taking it to this by 2012:


At this point 3D Robotics was still selling mostly electronics, essentially bare boards and "bags of parts" kits, much like our role models at Sparkfun and Adafruit.  But it was clear that the industry was growing up and was ready to go more mainstream. So on the basis of that and our progress so far, we raised our Series A round in December 2012 and I came onboard as CEO nine months ago. 

Our mission over the past nine months has been to professionalize the company and our products, and although that's far from done we've made a lot of progress. On the company side, this meant new websites, ecommerce systems, improvements in customer support (still a work in progress but we've shortened response times and moved to Zendesk to track issues better), and most importantly, the opening of our big new manufacturing facility in Tijuana.


On the community side, we've sponsored the software dev teams, the documentation teams and the community management teams here, on the new ArduPilot.com documentation sites and on the GitHub dev repository. 3DR just sells the "atoms" (the hardware) while this open source community creates and gives away the "bits" (the software), but as a company we've worked hard to support the community in every way we can to encourage a healthy community/company partnership. (We're modeled after WordPress/Automattic in this respect).

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the hundreds of developers, editors, moderators, beta testers and other volunteers who have created such an extraordinary thing here: the software teams, the documentation teams and everywhere else where the open innovation model has worked so well to serve a community of nearly 44,000 members. Our commitment is to use our funding to help make this community even better, by investing more in the open innovation model. As we have from the start, we'll continue doing what we can to help people here help each other, following the lead of open source models from Linux to Adafruit and our original mentors at Arduino. 

On the product side, the last year has seen the development (with ETH) of our next-gen autopilot, Pixhawk, and the consumer-friendly Iris autonomous quadcopter designed for tablet/phone use, and a suite of software that will be announced soon as part of the Iris Consumer Edition. 

That brings us to our third phase, which starts now: not just creating drones, but putting them to work. This means finding new applications for aerial robotics by creating entire systems, from the cloud to tablets/phones to communications systems to more sophisticated aircraft systems and payloads. From Agriculture to Hollywood, this is where the real opportunity lies. 

I feel we're like the PC industry in 1983. As an industry, we've come close to taking drones from industrial equipment or hobbyist gear (from the mainframes to the Apple II of the late 70s) to the first Macintosh, making them consumer friendly and easy to use. Now that drones are not just for the technically sophisticated anymore, it's time to find out what they can really do, by putting them in the hands of regular people, from GoPro owners to farmers, and see how they use "anywhere, anytime access to the skies" to discover new applications and markets, much as we did with computers after the original IBM PC and the Mac.

In short, this is just the beginning. I couldn't be more thrilled to embark on our next chapter. 

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  • Prior to massive commercialization of drones, the only way you could have your own was to actually learn everything about them, from electronics to software/programming to airframe mechanics. If you wanted a 'drone', you had to build one. Now, anyone with some cash can get one without all the knowledge involved. Obviously there are good and bad points about this. Some of the downsides is that it put this "high-tech" and potentially dangerous technology in the hands of novices who could do great harm, both physically and legally speaking (if this technology is abused). Either way, as with all technology, drones evolve and will continue to do so, hopefully for the better.

  • Oh, and I forgot to say, I do hope it works out.  And do you think I can get my orders shipped sooner than a week after I order when everything is in stock now that you have $30M to work with?

  • So let's see, there are 44,000+ members on DIY Drones and growing everyday.  So $30M/44K is about $681/member.  I'm not suggesting that all 44K members would come up with that, but do you think if 3DR's "commitment is to use our funding to help make this community even better" they might have figured out another way than to bring in VC without a new board member that only has a VC agenda?  One might think that in the age of crowdfunding that someone who is truly innovative and committed to the "community" might be able to come up with a different funding mechanism.  But then I'm not a VC expert and only time will tell.  However, I would put the question out there to Chris, the very savvy ex-editor of Wired magazine, what's the real motive here?  I don't really care what the motive is as long as it's up front.  If it's veiled in a "huge debt of gratitude to the hundreds of developers, editors, moderators, beta testers and other volunteers who have created such an extraordinary thing here" without any form of compensation for them, then it's a little disingenuous don't you think?  Especially if you don't even give them a chance to "buy in".

    "I feel we're like the PC industry in 1983"? Anybody here feel like a member of the Homebrew Computer Club?  How did the Homebrew Computer Club share in Apples wealth?  I guess could buy an Apple just like anyone else.  Since Chris chose to make the 1983 analogy, Is it more a Chris Wosniak or a Chris Jobs?  

    But hey, it is the Silicon Valley dream and isn't Berkeley somewhere near there?

  • Distributor

    Exciting news Chris and well done all to reach so high so fast. 

    I agree that we are back in 1983 for the PC world but this time we fly.  Just like the other distributors out there I am ready to take it to the next level and move together with 3DR. The addition of a dedicated role to support us the distributors (Welcome Pablo!) show that 3DR still believe in us and want to make it better for everyone. 

    As for the future of the open source / open hardware I am confident that there will still be a lot of ways to participate in the evolution of our hobby, (wow how do we call it now that it is about to go way beyond the hobby world?) Industry.. yes I guess we can now be called an industry, still focused to it's community roots. 

    I think there will be a lot of eyes scrutinizing how they/we do it (I really feel part of it, not because I am selling their parts, because I am here since Jordi and Jani started the first Arducopter and I still come here everyday when I find time)

    People will learn from the challenges we will overcome in the next years. This story I am sure my kids will read in a book one day and I feel honored and privileged to be part of it.  

    We still need people to question the intentions, actions and ways taken to evolve, thanks to people like Brent who are speaking of passion and asking the "delicate" questions.  Let's just make sure we are staying positive and that the discussion stays polite and intended to make it better (just like it is now, no flame wars, no escalation please)  I know that Chris built this community because he believe its the right thing to do and not to use everyone as "cheap labor" and "stealing ideas".  It is always a fine line in our era of rapid prototyping and at home factory like capacity to produce parts, code and how fast we can now share ideas. Acting as a leader/model where there is not many example around is not easy for sure. And as far as I know I think Chris is human :) 

    Could Jordi/Chris had made it this far without all of us? Definitely the answer is a big NO.

    Would we have such a nice platform as the 3DR products without them? Maybe, Maybe not yet as mature as it is, there is still a few other alternative platforms to go to to replace the APM but the fast progress made by the DIYDrones community and the factory power of 3DR made it a very attractive choice for Makers and hackers,

    What have they done for us in return for our time, effort, money and dedication?

    They produced parts at a very fair price, they took risks believing there was a way to make it profitable to serve us better and to push the product evolution to higher standards and levels release after releases. 

    Now that there is big money on the line it is easy to accuse them to be entrepreneurial focused doing it for money and fame only (BTW I believe they fully deserve it) but I do strongly believe it's not their main goal. They were at a crossroad that they decided to tackle, and now there is no turning back. Chris left his Wired job to take the plunge, to follow a dream, please have some faith in his actions. Keep the watch dog out there to ensure there is an open discussion but as long as they keep the products open-community (and this will require some new definition for sure) we will have a very nice ride.  

    I really like Jack comment (as usual!) 

    Like it or not, quad copters are now the big leagues, just like Linux in 1999.  You either ride the wave all the way to the top or let DJI take all the money & live in a world of DJI products.  In the Linux craze, the key open source developers were compensated nicely with pre-IPO options.  The key arducopter & PX4 people should make out well. 

    Let's make the future today, let's see where this wave take us! 



  • Dear Bro Chris !

    Glad to hear the progressive movement & improvements ! 

    As your statement, it is JUST A BEGINNING !! 
    Keep it up , Cheers ! 


  • I can't wait to see what's in store for 3DR and all the folks involved!!! :)

  • Economically this is very scary territory, and navigating these waters is definitely going to be very tricky.

    But one thing I am pretty sure I understand about Chris is that he really isn't doing this primarily to make money.

    He's doing it to make the future a more interesting and worthwhile place.

    And he knows how much of it comes from a really extended community.

    I am really sure it is important to him to see that community rides along together with him and 3DR.

    I seriously hope he can pull it off, he sure isn't holding back.

  • Eagle (and frankly everyone else) -- my point isn't to throw bombs. I agree this is in their court to respond and I'll shut my yapper. But between the praise and "tide rises all boats" stuff should be genuine concern. $30M of VC money is real money, and it demands real profit and exit strategies. In other words, it's there for a sale or an IPO. And after 2 rounds of $M investment, the dilution across the board generally implies that founders end up with a minority equity stake (though voting is often preserved). So where does that leave a supposed community-oriented company? How do the demands of VCs on the Board of Directors affect decisionmaking and priorities? (And we can see how far the ambition and vision has expanded beyond "a place for hobbyists" or frankly DIY at all.)

    The ownership assessment may not be correct, because I'm not privy to the confidential terms of these investment rounds. But there are clear archetypes that are being invoked here in Bay Area tech startup-land and it's not unreasonable to look at the very well-publicized history there for cues.

    Anyway, the A Round I didn't like. The B Round I *really* don't like. But I'm just being annoying now, so I'm done complaining and will let you guys decide what side of the fence you're on.


    (RE: MakerBot Industries, they have long been a clear and not-unconsciously-mimicked model for what 3DR has been trying to do -- open-source community, private company "supporting it", tons of hype playing on the Maker/hobbyist community, then VC rounds, high valuations and an eventual sale. It played out that they took the money last summer and started switching at the peripheries to protected/IP-generating activities last September. One move was to introduce software that was "partially open-source". A few months later was a huge cash-out to a public corporation... y'know, "for the community".)

  • 3D Robotics
    Eagle: of course!
  • Chris, please, can you elaborate on "... and a suite of software that will be announced soon as part of the Iris Consumer Edition".... that suite of software will be open?

    Was MakerBot's post-VC (same VCs btw)?

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