Drones have transformed from nuisance-causing toys into image services for construction businesses and agricultural companies, and more.

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Over the past eight years, drone companies have raised a known total of nearly $1.76 billion dollars, with almost $500 million of that funding being raised in 2017 and $96.6 million being raised since the beginning of 2018. According to Crunchbase data, 67 percent of those funding rounds were for seed and early-stage ventures.

Tech Advances Spur Drone Innovation

As imaging and connectivity technology becomes more sophisticated, and business and environmental issues become more complex, more startups have popped up in the sphere. Accordingly, VCs have begun to direct an increasing amount of cash into the industry.

The devices have even provided assistance during times of environmental disaster. Kraettli Epperson, CEO of Vigilant Aerospace, told Crunchbase News in September that drones “provide immediate access to better data, mapping and situational awareness in a way that is safer, faster, and less costly than other methods of assessment” when it comes to disaster response.

On the early stage front, we also reported that DroneBase raised a $12 Million dollar Series A led by Upfront Ventures and Union Square Ventures to expand its influence in the Drones as a Service (DaaS) industry for commercial partners.

Another notable player in the drone sace is Skydio, which closed a $42 million Series B in 2017 backed by Playground Global, Institutional Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, and other big venture players in Silicon Valley.

Designed by its team of MIT engineers, its latest drone release, the R1, is controlled through a smartphone app and can, creepily enough, lock onto a pedestrian and follow them while filming and avoiding obstacles. According to Techcrunch, the company developed the drone using technology similar to that of autonomous vehicles.

Though the drone is meant to be a consumer tech device, providing sophisticated content creation rather than fun flight experiences is the goal.

“This product is less about the experience of manually flying it and much more about the content that you can create,” CEO Adam Bry told the Verge last year.

Dronebase also told Crunchbase News last month that “there has been more structure in the [drone] regulatory environment.”

Regulations Inspire Drone Management Startups

To manage the incoming regulatory tide, drone management services like Skysafe and Airmap are there to help.

Unlike other drone management companies, Skysafe boasts the ability to take down drones without shooting lasers or nets into the sky. Its devices force the landing of drones by jamming the operators’ frequencies with strong radio waves. And while the military is interested in drone technology, Skysafe’s system is perhaps even more important as disarming drones carrying explosive devices or otherwise harmful material in an effective and safe way is a powerful defense. Likewise, according to Techcrunch, SkySafe signed $1.5 million Department of Defense contract to provide counter-drone tech to the Navy Seals.

In light all of all of this excitement in the industry, we have compiled a list of the top 21 early-stage drone companies to watch out for. They range from commercially-focused DaaS companies to drone management companies and personal fliers like the ones mentioned above. We tracked latest funding rounds in the seed, Series A and Series B funding stages that took place in 2017 and 2018 (so far). The companies are rated by amount raised in that last funding round.

Editorial Note: A previous version of the chart incorrectly listed Skydio’s last funding round as $12M. 

Top Image Credit: Li-Anne Dias