While major companies struggle with Federal Aviation Administration drone restrictions, a new startup is busy mapping the sky in preparation for the day that drones can fly free.
“Think of it as Waze or Google Maps for drones,” said Hivemapper founder Ariel Seidman. He said the goal is to help drone pilots fly more safely (and legally).
Today Hivemapper is launching a public beta of its mapping app on Google Play. The app integrates with DJI drones to give pilots access to data-rich, localized maps so they can better control their drones. The 3D maps show viewers their drone in relation to buildings, trees, and even boats. It also includes information about no-fly zones and accident data, so pilots know what areas to avoid.
Those who don’t have a DJI drone can still use the Hivemapper website to view maps of areas where they are flying, but using the maps this way requires a lot more guesswork.
In addition to the launch, the company is also announcing a $3 million seed round led by New York-based Spark Capital. Google Ventures, Harrison Metal, Homebrew Capital, Founder Collective, and a few angels also contributed.
Hivemapper is going live as Google, Amazon, and Walmart and others are ramping up research into whether delivery by drone is feasible. Meanwhile, an FAA task force is deliberating on how to make room for drone traffic. The committee is considering how to implement a registration system for noncommercial drones as a way to keep track of them. What could further assist in keeping air traffic under control is a live mapping tool that shows drone pilots the location of nearby planes and other potential hazards.
That’s the product that Seidman hopes to cultivate with this new round of funding. Already the platform has collected 200 million data points, and now that it’s released to the public, the company stands to accrue even more data.
Though the app focuses on hobbyist drone flight, it’s easy to see how Hivemapper might eventually lease this technology to the many companies developing drone-powered shipping. When I asked Seidman about that opportunity, he smiled and said to get back to him in six months.