AirMap raises $26m in Series B round led by Microsoft

Microsoft and Airbus are among the investors contributing to AirMap's $26 million Series B round, which will be used by the company to expand its solutions internationally.

AirMap has raised $26 million in a Series B round led by Microsoft Ventures. The investment arms of Airbus, Qualcomm, Rakuten, Sony, and Yuneec also contributed to the round, as well as existing investors General Catalyst and Lux Capital.

The latest round brings the total amount raised by the Santa Monica, California-based startup to $43.6 million.

Founded in 2015, AirMap's airspace management platform calculates safe routes for drones, taking into consideration weather information and first-responder activity. Using the platform, drones can broadcast their flight plans in real time, while drone operators can monitor changes in airspace, the company explained.

According to AirMap, millions of drones from hundreds of drone developers rely on its solutions.

The startup has partnerships in place with Intel, DJI, SenseFly, 3D Robotics, and Aeryon Labs, all of which have integrated AirMap's flight data with their drones, ground control stations, and flight apps.

In addition, the company said more than 125 airports use AirMap's airspace management dashboard to monitor drones in surrounding airspace and communicate with drone operators.

The $26 million capital injection will be used by the startup to support its mission to become the air navigation service provider for drones in the US, Europe, and beyond, it said. Initially, the company will open offices in Berlin and at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

The investment from Microsoft comes after the company announced that it would be open-sourcing its Aerial Informatics and Robotics Platform, which allows developers to test and train drones and robots in a virtual environment.

Nagraj Kashyap, corporate vice president at Microsoft Ventures, said AirMap will play a "pivotal role" in shaping the future of the drone industry. While Microsoft hasn't delved as deep in the drone game as Qualcomm and Intel, the company believes investing in startups like AirMap will allow Microsoft's resources, platforms, and AI technologies to play a greater role in the drone ecosystem as it continues to develop.

Takashi Toraishi, who is responsible for the Sora Raku Rakuten drone service, communicated a similar sentiment, saying AirMAp addresses the growing need for airspace management technologies to ensure the safe and smooth operation of commercial drone services in low-altitude airspace.

In 2016, AirMap expanded its headcount to 50 employees and launched the AirMap developer platform, which opens the company's library of APIs and SDKs to industry manufacturers and app developers, as well as its Digital Notice and Awareness System, an airspace management dashboard used by more than 125 airports.

In addition, AirMap expanded its data for situational awareness, flight planning, and geofencing, adding real-time manned traffic alerts, live wildfire information, and microscale weather.

AirMap is also betting on the idea that drones will become autonomous.

"Very soon, millions of drones will fly billions of flights. This is a future that depends on safe, autonomous drone operations at scale. AirMap's technology will make this future possible, allowing the drones of today, and the autonomous drones of tomorrow, to take flight," said AirMap CEO Ben Marcus, who also serves as the industry co-chair for the FAA/industry Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team.

In January, Airbus announced that it would be testing its autonomous airborne taxi prototype for one passenger by the end of 2017.

"At Airbus Ventures, we aim to accelerate and facilitate urban air mobility by making investments in related key technologies," said Thomas d'Halluin, CEO of Airbus Ventures. "Our goal is to help unlock the underlying technologies that will bring about rapid, widespread adoption and transform the whole system of urban travel.

"We are proud to collaborate with AirMap in helping build the essential safety infrastructure to introduce and secure traffic patterns for autonomous vehicles into the airspace."

Other Airbus divisions around the world are working on autonomous aircraft projects as well. Skyways is a drone delivery service that will be tested in Singapore this year, and City Airbus is a concept for an autonomous helicopter that passengers would order with a smartphone app.