You 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:
Jordi hand-soldering original ArduPilot shields
My 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.
Thanks, Bill. Your pioneering work has been an inspiration to all of us, and your generosity to me and Jordi in the early days is something we will always be grateful for. It's a tribute to your insights and technical prowess that six years later, you are still viewed as the go-to expert for our teams and others on everything from navigation algorithms to control theory. All I did was start a website; you actually made robots fly!
I would like to point out to the community that there are several other presently active open-source autopilot projects that proceeded this community, such as Paparazzi and UDB, and which were really the kickstart for your project.
Paparazzi was started in 2003, and UDB was started in 2006, the year before this website was opened.
That said, I do add my congratulations to this thread. You have certainly done more than anyone else to promote this hobby, and to make it available to diydroners. You have created this community, no doubt about it, and I think you can claim that you have launched a new industry. We all owe you a debt of gratitude. I for one trust that you will continue to balance the the interests of this community and 3DRobotics. After all, your business will succeed only if you satisfy your market, and this is your market.
Also, I acknowledge that I am grateful to you for your many acts of kindness to me.
Best regards and every wish for your continued success,
As one of the oldest members of the community till the beginning and first testers of earliest version Ardupilots, which i am proud of, i wish you more successful years in this drone business... Always felt like a member of a family at Diy Drones... Wish you good luck in a constantly growing industry and please dont lose this warm relations in Diy Dromes Family...
Thanks, Brent. I appreciate the nuance and civility.
As for the DroneCode Consortium, it doesn't exist yet but will be modeled after best-practice efforts such as the WordPress foundation (who have been our advisors). There will be some sort of board and governance structure. Much as I do today, I'll probably wear two hats, company and community (just as Matt Mullenweg does at WordPress/Automattic), but I'll just be one member of the board and the other members will be chosen to represent the best interests of the community broadly. Many of those members will be companies, in the same way that IBM and RedHat are members of the Linux Foundation.
As for that "kickstarted" phrase, I was as unhappy with that as everyone else. The article I wrote and was published in Wired Magazine, which I edited, had the headline shown below. An editor on the wired.com website later changed that headline to the "kickstarted" one, which were never my words. (The article itself doesn't use that phrase). Such headline changes by website editors is just one of those things that happen in a big distributed media company, but it's been a source of chagrin for me and I wish they hadn't done that.
> Jani, thanks for setting the record straight. My previous *understanding* stands corrected, and I’ll take your words for it, unless whoever made that point in the first place stands for it. Like R_Lefebrvre, I saw that claim made quite some time ago, and again more recently, and it had never been refuted. And ditto, ”Not that it would be a problem if it *were* true”. A detail, really.
I was the first one, and I don't stand by it. Actually -- I apologize. That's something that had been repeated to me multiple times in confidence by some people "in the know" in the Aeroquad ecosystem some time ago, and I take Chris et al. at their word that this is not the case. I do vigorously stand by other points, but I accept that this is not correct and again, apologize.
I am not an unreasonable human being. :p But I don't mind the personal attacks, it's fine; I get the defensiveness. My immediate reaction to this announcement was to be wound up by something I obviously deeply disagree with, and as such I am also apologetic for being instrumental in the veering into impoliteness in the discourse. A few days and some explication has cooled this on my end. However, the underlying impulse is neither incorrect nor uncalled-for, and I urge people to think critically about where things are going and what implications there will be to a presumed mega-C or Bridge Round in the future (assuming DIYD remains symbiotic with 3DR).
HOWEVER, Chris, I'm glad you dealt with my question forthrightly, as it was posed in earnest and not merely a "gotcha". I'm satisfied that this was what you felt was the best thing for 3DR (which I'm sure it is), and this is fair; I appreciate the acknowledgement of the conflict of interest, and I'm interested in what the plans are for the DIYD separation. Can you give some more information on this? What're the plans for the Board of the nonprofit? Are there Minutes that have been kept and are available? (and no, I'm not nominating my divisive self :p).
> Sponsor, contributor, facilitator, integrator (Iris), yes. Creator, originator , kickstarter of personal UAVs : No.
This I 100% agree with, and the aggressive marketing to the public needs to be reined in. Yeah, it's good for business, but it does a disservice to the scores of very talented outsiders who've been laboring hard doing innovative work for a decade getting us past the MicroPilot and PicoPilot eras of overpriced autopilots. These groups are scattered over the planet and haven't the advantages of a second-to-none media Rolodex, nor proximity to Silicon Valley money. That doesn't make their contributions any less groundbreaking or absolutely essential for the entire sUAS community.
And fo rhte folks who seem upset by all this, they do not really seem to be the folks contributing much if anything. If terribly unhappy, then it is easy to not do business with 3DR and go elsewhere.
I missed htis while traveling. Congrats on the capital infusion. I look forward to all sorts of good things from you guys.
Jani, thanks for setting the record straight. My previous *understanding* stands corrected, and I’ll take your words for it, unless whoever made that point in the first place stands for it. Like R_Lefebrvre, I saw that claim made quite some time ago, and again more recently, and it had never been refuted. And ditto, ”Not that it would be a problem if it *were* true”. A detail, really.
The much larger issue remains, the false claims that 3DR has “created the leading UAV platform” or the myth that DIYdrones/3DR is at the origin of the UAV “revolution”. These claims were not made by you, they were made in the wired article written by Chris I linked to earlier, and is made in the press release. The bottom line is that DIydrones/3DR has sponsored one (of many) UAV open source efforts, and created apm 2.x hardware. That’s no small feat btw, and there is no question that the community has tremendously benefitted from this and that DIYDrones, 3DR, and Chris personally deserve a lot of credit. But there is an enormous difference between sponsoring and creating. With the upcoming Pixhawk in Iris, the difference grows further.
Sponsor, contributor, facilitator, integrator (Iris), yes. Creator, originator , kickstarter of personal UAVs : No.