Skydio raises $3M to build software for safer, smarter drones

Skydio came out of stealth today with plans to build a smarter navigation system for drones, plus a $3 million seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz and Accel Partners.

Unlike most navigation systems that require a drone to have a GPS signal and dedicated human pilot, Skydio relies on computer vision to help drones see the world. A video on the Skydio website depicts drones flying around trees and through a parking lot, plus autonomously following people and being maneuvered by waving a mobile phone.

Skydio CEO Adam Bry wrote in a blog post:

A drone that’s aware of its surroundings is far easier to control, safer to operate, and more capable. Almost all the information a drone needs to be good at its job can be found in onboard video data; the challenge is extracting that information and making it useful for the task at hand. That challenge, and the incredible capabilities that are unlocked, are our focus.

For us this project is about harnessing the beauty and power of flight to make it “universally accessible and useful.”

Andreessen Horowitz general partner Chris Dixon wrote on his blog that Skydio is also poised to simplify drone programming to the point that it only takes a simple command.

“Smart drone operators will simply give high-level instructions like ‘map these fields’ or ‘film me while I’m skiing’ and the drone will carry out the mission,” Dixon wrote. “Safety and privacy regulations will be baked into the operating system and will always be the top priority.”

The Skydio team has roots at MIT, where two of its three co-founders worked on drone vision systems. They later went on to found the Project Wing delivery drone program at Google.

Andreessen Horowitz previously invested in another drone intelligence company: Airware. But Dixon doesn’t see the two companies as competitors.

“You can think of Airware as the operating system and Skydio as the most important app on top of the operating system,” Dixon wrote.

YC winter 2013 demo day: Five startups to watch (morning edition)

With a smaller batch of startups this spring as compared to its demo day last summer, Y Combinator is scaling back in numbers but hopefully scaling up in quality of startups. Here are our picks for the five startups to watch from the morning’s presentations.