In 2014 Rory San Miguel and Francis Vierboom made a bet that not all drone companies would actually need to fly drones, and it seems to be paying off.
On Wednesday their company Propeller Aero, which transforms data captured by drones into survey-grade 3D maps for mining and construction sites, announced it had raised a $3.1 million (A$4 million) funding round.
As well as local venture capital firm Blackbird Ventures, U.S. players Accel Partners and Costanoa Venture Capital have also signed on.
Based in Sydney, the pair founded the startup after meeting as cofounders at Flirtey, the headline-grabbing drone delivery company now based in the U.S. Following a A$1 million round in 2015, the startup now plans to focus on hiring more creative people to boost its existing team of 17.
The original idea stemmed from the fact drones are still a complicated, frustrating thing to use in big business, San Miguel told Mashable. “The reason is not necessarily because of the hardware or regulations, and more to do with the huge amount of data they create that’s hard to manipulate with existing tools.”
While drones can gather reams of detailed data, it’s not necessarily accurate or in a useful format.
“All these end customers, they expect data that’s accurate or more accurate than existing methods,” he explained. “Propellor is about making the data as easy to use and accurate as possible.”
Through its 3D visualisation cloud platform, the startup allows companies to measure volume and distance throughout large areas, and its AeroPoints hardware assists with accurate site mapping.
Currently, the company sells its services to other global drone data companies and it’s used in more than 60 countries. Increasingly, it’s also working directly with end user companies in the mining industry, for example, which need reliable surveying data.
Following a partnership with top drone maker DJI in August, San Miguel sees Propeller Aero being able to deliver a complete, on-site solution directly to costumers.
Especially so, given the new drone regulations that will shortly come into effect in Australia. From Thursday, those flying commercial drones under two kilograms will not need a remotely piloted aircraft operator’s certificate.
“Propeller, along with its industry peers, are well positioned to take advantage of the worldwide growth that is expected to come as a result of a clearer regulatory landscape,” Bucky Moore, principal at Costanoa Venture Capital, wrote on LinkedIn.
“It’s becoming this easy tool to get a visual look at your site ,” San Miguel suggested. “Because we’ve got the enabling technology, we’re in a good position to bring the internet to these industrial sites and bring some of the modern software-based workflow to generally slow-to-adapt industries.”
In his view, industrial drone use is only going to grow. For a whole range of industries, including construction and oil and gas, drones will become just another “tool in the arsenal.”
“Hopefully in 12 months most of these sites will be capturing data every day,” he said.