Investors are betting 3DR can find life after Solo as a drone data platform

An early player in drone-tech, 3D Robotics, Inc. on Thursday announced that it has raised $53 million in a Series D round of funding, including new equity funding and conversion of debt equity. Atlantic Bridge led the round, joined by Autodesk Forge Fund, True Ventures, Foundry Group, Mayfield and other undisclosed investors, according to the company statement.

The company didn’t break out how much new capital it saw coming in the door in this round. We reached out for more information. But for now, it’s hard to ascertain how much runway the Series D investment gives 3DR, which is attempting a major metamorphosis.

Since about 2015, 3DR has been working to turn its business into a competitive enterprise software player. Its competition today is more about Drone Deploy or Airware than DJI or Parrot. That wasn’t the original plan, of course.

In 2009, 3DR started off selling drone components to the DIY set. It later launched a consumer drone, the Solo, built with open-source architecture. But it halted production of those in 2015 after challenges controlling quality and manufacturing costs, and predicting demand, among other things.

Chris Anderson, the company’s CEO and founder (formerly the editor in chief of Wired) then turned his focus to the commercial and industrial drone market. He saw the Part 107 regulations taking shape in the U.S. as a market-driver that would usher in the use of drones in day-to-day operations on farms, construction sites and more.

Now, the company sells its Site Scan product as its flagship. Site Scan is primarily software-as-a-service that enables drone users to precisely control their flights and on-board cameras, then send data straight from those to the cloud.

3DR promises Site Scan users integration with Autodesk’s BIM, or building information modeling tools. Autodesk invested in 3DR back in 2016 when it launched its Forge Fund. It also serves as a channel partner for 3DR, helping the born-again startup make inroads into the massive construction market.

Today, 3DR’s Site Scan lets users overlay the high-res imagery and data that they have captured via drones with site-plan information stored in Autodesk’s BIM, or use those images in conjunction with geographic information services like Esri. Overlaying this data gives contractors, structural engineers and architects a way to quickly and visually identify potential problems and avoid building delays.

We’ve reached out to 3DR and some of its investors for more information about what the company will do given its new funding, and the health of its business today; these sources were not immediately available for comment.

According to the company statement published Thursday, 3DR plans to invest its capital in building out Site Scan and marketing it within construction and engineering industries.