Robot maker iRobot has long had two major lines of businesses: its famous disc-shaped vacuum cleaning robot called the Roomba; and another robot that, well, disposes of bombs.
Co-founder Helen Greiner says iRobot — now a publicly traded company currently valued at $940 million — “wouldn’t have been able to have struggle through” without both.
No wonder Greiner is again focusing on disparate lines of business at her seven-year-old drone company, CyPhy Works in Danvers, Mass, which has just raised $22 million in Series B funding.
On the one hand, CyPhy is about to start mass-producing its Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications (PARC) drones, which can fly as high as 500 feet in the air and hang there for 100 hours at a time. How? They’re tethered to the ground with a highly specialized microfilament that both powers them and acts as a secure communications link. As an added bonus, the tether keeps the robots from flying away in sandstorms and other harsh conditions.
The PARC system has mostly been used to date by the U.S. military, which employs them at combat posts to monitor compounds. The drones can also accept a variety of payloads. But now that the FAA has begun more freely authorizing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for non-governmental purposes, Greiner is expecting enterprise customers of all kinds to start ordering them, from mining to port security to construction to even media companies.
Indeed, we did a quick search and found that CNN was granted an exception by the FAA back in July for aerial photography and videography.
Greiner won’t say whether or not the company is a CyPhy customer. Citing competitive concerns, Greiner keeps a lot close to the vest, in fact, including the cost to customers for the PARC system, and even how many people CyPhy employs.
She does tell us that Motorola — which invested an undisclosed amount of money in CyPhy earlier this year — has “given us access to international connections, especially in the Far East.”
Either way, Greiner knows firsthand the value of diversifying, which largely explains CyPhy’s new consumer drone, the LVL1.
Though it won’t be available for purchase until next year, she says the drone is far more durable than those of the company’s growing number of competitors, mostly because CyPhy has done away with the gimbal – a common mechanism used to keep an instrumental horizontal. Greiner says that without it, drones break less frequently. She also insists that because of the LVL1’s design, the video and photos taken on behalf of users are far smoother.
CyPhy will also begin work next year on a tethered “pocket flier” drone that fits into cargo pants and can sent into dangerous situations.
In a crowded market, says Greiner, “What you really need is either marketing innovation or technical innovation. We’ve gone deep on technical innovation.”
Hedging its bets across products should hopefully help, too.
CyPhy’s new round was led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Other participants in the funding include Motorola Venture Solutions (whose capital came through earlier this year), UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund, Draper Nexus (which also wrote its check to CyPhy earlier this year), and earlier backers Lux Capital and General Catalyst Partners. The company has now raised $30 million in venture capital altogether.