Venture

Exyn Raises $16M Series A To Fly Its Drones Under The Radar

Drone startup Exyn, quite literally, flies under the radar.

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The company, which just raised a $16 million Series A, sends fully autonomous drones to hard to reach areas, like mining facilities or defense areas, claiming to unlock data that will help with mapping.

It targets “data sets that are challenging to acquire because they are inaccessible, disconnected, dark or dangerous making it expensive, infrequent and inaccurate,” Nader Elm, the CEO of Exyn, told Crunchbase News.

The most recent funding round was led by Centricus, with Yamaha Motors Ventures, In-Q-Tel, Corecam Family Office, and Red and Blue Ventures. Previous investor IP Group, Inc. also invested. Its total funding to date is over $20 million, the company says. The new funding will be used to help expand that technology, and also move its autonomy intelligence to ground-based robots, the company claims.

Elms says that “while big data is big” these days, tools in place don’t favor a whole stream of industries, like construction, mining, and defense.

“For them, the analytical tool is not the problem, actually getting the data is,” he says.

One of their customers, for example, wants to map the cavities created by drilling and blasting in underground mines.

The area that has the best data points around safety, however, “also happens to be [the location] where mining companies have the least information/data because of the inherent dangers of the environment.”

Enter Exyn’s drone, which is a robot programmed to fly into environments to map obstacles, terrain, gas readings, and more. The robot’s entire mission takes 3 minutes, and the operations are fully pilotless, he says.

Elm says one of the biggest challenges ahead is being looped in as just another drone company.  The technology is fairly commoditized, he says, and its hype, in some ways has quieted. It’s true; it’s been a while since a drone startup has popped up on our radar, since an initial boost.

For example, last February, we listed 21 drone startups to watch out for. The industry, facing a spur of tech advances, was raking in billions in venture capital dollars, with the majority going to seed and early-stage companies. Other startups, like Skysafe and Airmap, were founded to help with regulation amid all this innovation.

Exyn’s Elm says it is because the domain has gone through its boom and now been commoditized.

Paola Santana, the co-founder of Matternet, a drone delivery startup, agrees with Elm and says it’s becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate yourself within the market.

Her advice for new drone startups is aim for the micro, instead of the macro. She recommends making a complete solution involving hardware and software, not just creating a drone that can see and sense.

“If there’s not a solid need for a drone to be used, it will just be a “good to have” tool that gets dismissed after the hype,” she told Crunchbase News. “The problem with that, specially for startups, is that you need complete alignment on what the team is going after, and wasting a couple of  months into something that is not a burning problem for a customer can (and ultimately will) kill the startup. ”

Elm says that his team looks “at the drone as purely the vehicle on which we integrate our autonomy capabilities, much like Waymo has integrated their autonomy capabilities onto a commodity car.”

A few months prior to the funding round, Exyn announced a commercial relationship with a Dundee Precious Metals. Soon after, its robots were deployed in the gold mines in Bulgaria. Elm says interest from other government contractors, including the U.S government, is on the way.

In a post-boom world for drones, any momentum feels noteworthy. With new cash and partnerships on the way, we’ll see if Exyn’s bet on a quieter approach to drones will help it fly, or let it die.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias