Iris Automation, a San Francisco-based startup that’s building collision avoidance systems for industrial drones and other autonomous flying machines, has closed an $8 million first round of funding led by Bessemer Venture Partners, with participation from Bee Partners.
Founded in 2015, Y Combinator alum Iris Automation claims a team of tech minds from the likes of NASA and Boeing and is one of a number of computer vision startups building technology that gives “eyesight” to autonomous vehicles.
Though regulation has eased in some areas of the drone realm, when it comes to autonomous flying, every drone operator needs the onboard smarts to be able to navigate their environment safely and adjust their course if they encounter unexpected obstacles.
This is what Iris Automation is setting out to build — a “situational awareness” platform that can guide drones and other forms of autonomous air transport safely from A to B.
Autonomous drone delivery services are already beginning to roll out in commercial use cases, and we’ve seen a number of drone companies come forward to help transport medical supplies, survey industrial sites, and more. At CES 2018 in Las Vegas, a number of companies showcased early-stage air taxi services, so it’s clear that there will be growing demand for Iris Automation’s smarts.
The company’s core customer base is likely to be hardware makers who are not prepared to dedicate the resources necessary to build their own collision avoidance software systems in-house. Safety will be — or at least should be — the number one concern for any operator sending an unmanned vehicle into the skies.
“Iris Automation’s approach to sensing is unlike anything ever attempted in the autonomous vehicle space,” said Iris Automation CEO Alexander Harmsen. “Our team of experts in computer vision, machine learning, and traditional aviation have built a product that will provide the level of safety necessary for pushing the boundaries of what is possible with drones, at a size factor and price point unheard of in the world of aviation.”
We’re seeing a similar uptick in computer vision-focused investment in the autonomous car sphere too, with Intel coughing up more than $15 billion to acquire computer vision company Mobileye, GM snapping up lidar startup Strobe, and countless computer visions startups raising big VC money.
Iris Automation had raised around $2 million before now and with its latest cash injection said it plans to focus on “rapidly expanding its team of top-notch engineers” in its San Francisco and Reno-Tahoe hubs, as well as preparing its technology to participate in the Trump administration’s recently announced UAS Integration Pilot Projects.