Though the market is still in its early stages, drone startups are becoming increasingly popular among venture capital firms. One of the latest companies to benefit is EHANG, maker of Ghost Drone, which users can control by tilting their smartphones. The company announced today that it has raised a $10 million Series A led by GGV Capital, with participation from entrepreneurs Xiaoping Xu, the co-founder of ZhenFund; entrepreneur Nick Yang, former chief technology officer of Sohu; and early-stage startup fund PreAngel also participated.
(EHANG was a finalist at the TechCrunch/TechNode Beijing event’s startup competition in August.)
EHANG co-founder Derrick Xiong says the Series A will be used to grow EHANG from its current roster of
17 70 employees, who are based in Guangzhou, Beijing, and San Francisco. EHANG plans to expand its marketing team to promote the drone as well as its software development kit (SDK) and hopes to hire more people for its research and development crew to continue working on its drone technology.
Part of the capital will also be used to fulfill orders from Ghost Drone’s current Indiegogo campaign, which originally aimed for $100,000 but has raised more than $640,000 so far. The Ghost Drone is expected to start shipping next month.
EHANG, which means “a hundred million pilots” in Chinese, wants to make drones accessible to as many people as possible, says Xiong. The company’s founders have been working on the technology behind EHANG’s drones for two years and the startup was officially launched in April.
One of Ghost Drone’s key selling points is that users navigate it with a smartphone app instead of a radio controller, which can be cumbersome and difficult for beginners to use.
To be sure, there are already other consumer drones that use smartphone app controllers, including the Parrot Bebop drone, which is sold in Apple’s online store. EHANG, however, wants to differentiate by making their smartphone apps so intuitive that even children as young as five can fly a drone. The Ghost Drone’s app uses smartphone accelerators so people can control their drones by tilting their phones. Users can tell the drone where to fly by tapping a spot on a map, and they can also use the app to control the angle of attached GoPro cameras.
In addition, EHANG is also one of only two companies (the other being 3D Robotics that makes drones with an auto-follow feature, which means that a drone will automatically accompany users as they engage in different activities, like sports.
Though EHANG’s creators claim that it is simple enough for a child to operate, the Ghost Drone is not a children’s toy (unless they happen to have highly indulgent parents). Priced between $500 and $1,000, the Ghost Drone is more expensive than many of its consumer-oriented rivals, which Xiong says is because it is built from better quality materials and can fly further and higher than competitors like the Parrot Bebop.
In a prepared statement, Jenny Lee, managing partner at GGV Capital, said, “There are so many potential applications for drone technology—from personal to commercial. We’re excited to be working with EHANG, because we love their unique approach to building this technology. They are leveraging mobile apps and unique features to make drones that are easy for everyone to use.”
The Ghost Drone is targeted at people who want to take aerial videos of events and sports, but EHANG’s SDK means it is open to other use cases as more developers come up with ideas. EHANG is currently prototyping other products targeted at different groups of buyers, as well as commercial drones to tap into a market that may be worth $1.7 billion by 2025.