Microsoft and Airbus are investing in the future of autonomous drones that can communicate with one another as they fly through cities.
AirMap, an airspace management startup for drones, announced Thursday it raised $26 million in a Series B funding round led by Microsoft Ventures. Investment arms from Qualcomm, Rakuten, Sony and Yuneec also participated in the round.
The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company counts on the idea that, as drone technology develops, the unmanned aerial vehicles will become more autonomous.
AirMap offers a platform to calculate safe routes for drones amid constantly developing conditions such as weather and first-responder activity. Using the platform, drones can broadcast their flight plans in real time, and operators can monitor changes in airspace.
Top drone makers such as Intel, DJI, senseFly, 3DR, and Aeryon Labs already partner with AirMap to build its platform into drones and and flight apps. According to the company, millions of drones already rely on its system.
Additionally, more than 125 airports use AirMap’s dashboard to monitor drones in surrounding airspace and communicate with drone operators. The company plans to use the new investment to expand their platform globally, and will open offices in Berlin and at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.
“Already, AirMap’s airspace intelligence is growing exponentially,” CTO Daniel Rubio wrote in a blog post Thursday. “Soon, a constant stream of data will allow us to make precise observations and choose the most optimum route without ever using our own sight to understand the flight environment. And not long after, we won’t make those decisions at all, as autonomous drones take flight and begin thinking for themselves.”
Microsoft Ventures believes AirMap will play a “pivotal role” in the drone industry, VP Nagraj Kashyap said in a press release. The fund has focused on AI technology, and Kashyap said investing in companies such as AirMap, along with startups building artificial intelligence, will shape the future of the drones.
AirMap’s software doesn’t end with current drone practices, though. While the company’s software has the ability to push forward drone package delivery, AirMap is also investing in the idea that flying cars will some day use their software.
Cofounders Ben Marcus and Gregory S. McNeal wrote Thursday that they believe the drone industry could “surpass even the most bullish predictions.”
Investors in the latest funding round are also banking on this idea.
“At Airbus Ventures, we aim to accelerate and facilitate urban air mobility by making investments in related key technologies,” Airbus Ventures CEO Thomas d’Halluin said in a press release. “Our goal is to help unlock the underlying technologies that will bring about rapid, widespread adoption and transform the whole system of urban travel.”