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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  • hum.. I didn't think of that...  whats the soul count up to these days?   probably only < 100 bucks a soul.. that's not bad.. that's a bargain.  =)

  • @LanMark.  Maybe they sold our souls, not theirs.

  • Just keep it to IBM/PC .. I can't/wont hang with Mac/Apple... :-)  And please don't move to China. Congrats on your funding

  • Hopefully not their soul :)

  • What exactly did 3DR sell to get $30M?  What does 3DR own?

  • So I suppose next we are going to have to get a license to fly UAV's? Christ I am so tired of hearing about how the drones are going to fall out of the sky unless they are controlled to some extent. Sure accidents happen. Just look at at the statistics in vehicle accidents every year. I do not see drones ever reaching mass adaption as vehicles so take a pill and chill out a little. See how things pan out first before you make claims that the sky is going to be filled with drones dropping on our heads as soon as we step outside! Honestly what ever happened to personal responsibility in this country?

  • When speaking of agricultural applications and the benefits of the data available with uas platforms, remember, this has been going on for over 10 years at Purdue University and others. Our industry partners have contributed greatly to this effort. We have not heavily used 3DR products but that is now changing. Thank you for evolving such a powerful tool.
  • Well I think it is a difficult business model... on one hand you have a bunch of free labor and in life NOTHING is ever free.. if its free then you are the product.  As a business you can't operate on 'free', you just can't.

    With increased capital investment comes a bunch more voices at the table wanting dividends and returns on their investments.. which is hard to do when you have the free labor side attached and possible intellectual property issues in the future.

    I applaud Chris for navigating these murky waters well and hopefully the additional voices at the table doesn't damage the company and the brand in the process.

  • Ah, the luxury of being close to 3DR in San Diego.. when a wrong part gets into a kit, I drive down and get it sorted.

    I have high hopes for this funding, and really staying the course on Open designs.  3DR's PX4 is my next project, because it is open too.

    We saw an unfortunate transition in Makerbot Industries, with Bre Pettis moving from "There’s no downside to open source (2010)" to "as open as we possibly can while building a sustainable business" and "share as much as possible."    The resulting Makerbot 2 cemented a lot of fears in the community that VC = Closing Up.  I would love to see this done right.

  • Chris,


    Any plans to invest some of that money in customer service? And operations while you're at it?

    You guys charged me for an RTF X8 8 days ago. Just got off the phone with a rep and you guys haven't even processed the order.

    You've got great technology, but terrible customer service (no one returns emails, phone calls are useless) and your operations are mediocre, at best.

    I guess I'm mostly to blame - dealing w/ 3D Robotics has always been a test in patience and endurance, both mentally and financially. The fact that I decided to upgrade my Quad to an X8 means I'm the idiot.

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