Measure may not be building the ultimate flying camera, or drones that drop burritos at your door. But the Washington D.C.-based startup has raised $15 million in Series B funding to fly drones as a service for other businesses that want to do things like conduct inspections, capture videos, or gather other insights from on high.
Measure CEO and cofounder Brandon Torres Declet said, “Over the past 2 years there has been something like $750 million invested into this space. The vast majority went to hardware and software. But flying a drone isn’t intuitive. And getting quality data is difficult. So we focus on giving you ROI, not just selling you hardware or a software license.”
The IT services firm Cognizant led the investment in Measure, joined by Hudson Bay Capital, as well as one unnamed sovereign wealth fund. According to Torres Declet, the company will use the capital for hiring, to expand into new markets geographically, and to develop new capabilities taking advantage of cutting edge new drones, sensors, cameras and software hitting the market.
By now, the “drone as a service” startup has amassed a diverse fleet and employs 20 full-time pilots, alongside flight operations, data engineering and drone engineering specialists. The drones it uses included both fixed-wing and multirotor models made by Aerialtronics, Aibotix, DJI and Sensefly. It also uses software like Skyward and DroneDeploy for flight management and data processing, among others. The company is always evaluating new hardware and apps in the space, of course.
Since Measure was founded in 2014, Torres Declet said, the company has secured drones and sent pilots to do jobs like: inspecting cell towers for Verizon (the parent company of TechCrunch); gathering aerial footage in the aftermath of natural disasters for major networks including ABC, Fox News and CNN; and conducting site audits for huge construction and engineering companies.
Last year, Measure also quietly worked on delivering consumable items by drone on behalf of an unspecified client, in partnership with the Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation in Texas. Measure’s CEO declined to discuss those initiatives, or divulge the name of a retailer or other client involved. However, the CEO boasted, in 2016 Measure flew more than 1,100 flights, making it one of the more experienced flight operators in business in the US.
Now that the Federal Aviation Administration issued its Part 107 rules clarifying how drone operators are, and aren’t, permitted to fly for commercial or industrial purposes in US airspace, the CEO expects more Fortune 1000 businesses will want to employ drones in their operations. Why not set up their own drone divisions?
He said, “It’s not that these companies can’t legally operate on their own, but we provide a level of expertise that most of them do not have. We know how they can take advantage of this technology, what can be done with the data they collect, what all the requirements are and when and how to get insurance, how to store and analyze their data, all of that. We want to take the questions away and just give them actionable data.”
The company’s competition mostly hails from regional drone operators focused on a single industry, such as Hazon Solutions in Virginia, or Trumbull Unmanned in Texas. But venture-backed PrecisionHawk, which has shifted from making drones and software to providing “aerial data services,” to large corporations is also aiming at this market.
Sean Middleton, President of Cognizant Accelerator, which led the strategic investment in Measure, said he believes the startup’s business is poised for growth in the US and beyond: “They already have a great pilot network, reach and business model. Now it is about getting in front of new clients. Interestingly, some of the solutions that Measure provides are even more applicable in developing markets where infrastructure is not as robust as it is in the US.”
Besides expanding its footprint, Measure plans to develop technology with the help of Cognizant like automatic change detection for aerial images, which could, for example, help an energy company spot a pipeline in need of repair long before there’s a leak, or a telecomm company find a tower that’s been damaged in a storm before customers complain of lost service.