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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  • Chris I do like your analogy with the personal computer revolution, I was there in the middle of it and in many ways that is why I am here now.

    There were really big barriers to overcome then (like trying to do something useful with a misapplied calculator chip).

    But this industry has some really unique challenges like people are afraid of getting spied on by "Big Brother" or their neighbors "Parrot" peering in their bathroom window.

    To say nothing of the bad press garnered by standoff assassinations.

    I do believe, robots are the second wave and they are starting here and now, but unmanned "flying things with eyes" are a new thing in civil airspace and new is always really problematic.

    You do have significant business issues to overcome (sufficient market) and not disenfrancising your current user group among others.

    But it seems to me that your job as spokesperson for all of civil "drone" use just became your most important endeavor.

    And I am glad that you are the one, you are well equipped for it.

  • Mike, they're actually planning on discontinuing continued development on the APM boards entirely and shifting everything to PX4. So no need to worry, it'll all work with their current toolsets soon -- just have to buy their new hardware!

    3DR's not fulfilling orders, doing decent customer service or scaling effectively to service their current customerbase because they're in a breakneck pace to grow grow grow as quickly as possible. That's what VC's are all about -- monster growth, big losses and quick exits.

    Honestly, the ambitions here are just so incredibly expansive. You guys want to serve the whole industry in every conceivable application? You want to manufacture the device that everyone uses in every town in the world? You want to compete with not just Parrot and DJI in the hobby space, but AeroVironment, Boeing and Northrop-Grumman? (who are ALL looking to diversity out of DoD post-sequester)? I mean, $30M is big money for us, but I'm pretty sure DJI (let alone everyone else) probably does that quarterly. And those companies have intellectual property that's, you know, original.

    When do we get off the visionary we-can-have-it-all train and get real?

    "We couldn't have done it without you guys!"

  • @Bill: I think the DIY stuff WAS the bread and butter that made 3DR, but unfortunately I think it's no longer the key to the type of success that they seem to be shooting for now.  Or maybe the 30M VC sales pitch went something like this...."we sell stuff to a bunch of DIY hobbyists and we think there's a huge market with with guys that want to tweek software and reconfigure their systems every time our open source team who is volunteering comes up with a new and better software because these guys that buy our stuff have nothing better to do!"  Anyone ever hear the term "compassmot" prior to 3.0.x?  Now it's all you hear.... ohhhh you didn't run compassmot, well no wonder your arducopter that ran perfectly before and was sold and configured by 3DR is going crazy in loiter now.  Just run compassmot and it'll be ok. Ohhhh wait, your interference % is 5000% well of course you need to move your apm somewhere where there's no interference, like off the copter?  Or just get an external compass for that system that 3DR built and configured and tested and was running great.... and then while you're at it reconfigure the whole thing.  Somehow I don't think that's the market the 30M is chasing.

  • Developer

    @Greg: I think the DIY stuff is the bread and butter for 3DR business, it's key to innovation and developing new products. I do think they have some growing pains at the moment like any fulfilment business.

  • When can I buy a franchise?  Tacocopter was a flop.

  • @ Joshua I agree and there in I wonder. 3DR have clearly out grown the DIY space so its not hard to see they might be too distracted with major industry projects to worry about DIY stock levels.  I have not been able to get even 1 ublox GPS due to the very short window of availability and then massive back orders.  Wish them all the well though Have highly enjoyed the ride :-)

  • @Greg,

    I have asked that same question about stocks.  I certainly would love to spend every last dollar at the end of each month loading up on 3DR Stocks.  Like most of us here I'd bet every last penny on 3DR becoming successful and growing with the market at the right pace. 

    Joshua Johnson

  • ...and great news! I hope 3DR will be growing faster every year.

  • Will there be a chance to buy some stocks of 3DR any time soon? I'm sure community would like to have some shares :)

  • All the best with your growing venture. Its good to see the VC support.   I only hope that things improve on the order and stock  front.  When I checked in mid August 3DR had no GPS in stock.  Now all the major parts are showing out of stock (including GPS, Telemetry, power units etc) A quick email reply form 3DR today confirmed there is even a 2 week order processing delay which does not take into account re-stock and back-orders.  Great products pity it takes months to get something.

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