Massachusetts Drone Startups to Watch


Massachusetts has been a launching pad for a diverse set of drone startups. The state’s technology-centered economy and second-to-none higher education system have led the Bay State to become an early leader in drone industry startups.  

Hydroswarm

When China temporarily seized an American underwater drone in the South China Sea in December 2016, much of the public was surprised to learn that not all drones fly.  Not Sampriti Bhattacharyya of Hydroswarm.  Sampriti, originally from Kolkata, India, is a Phd candidate at MIT and refers to herself as “The girl who wants to map the world’s ocean and build cool underwater drones”. The startup designs and markets AI-enabled underwater drones, and is working on an adaptable, smart drone platform that communicates with underwater, football-sized, data-collecting drones, that can be used for a number of applications, including environmental monitoring and monitoring for the oil and gas industry.

DARTdrones

DART Drones Flight SchoolDARTdrones is a national provider of drone training and consulting services.  The company was founded by Abby Speicher in 2015 while she was an MBA student at Babson College and has since grown to add an additional office in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The company offer classes and training to help aspiring drone pilots learn to fly UAVs in more than 35 cities across the U.S.  Dronegenuity founder Dan Edmonson was a classmate of Abby’s at Babson and worked for DARTdrones, where he developed curriculum, taught an online course, managed business development, and assisted with strategic and digital marketing operations.  DARTdrones appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank on February 24, 2017, and received a $300,000 investment from Mark Cuban.

Raptor Maps

Raptor Maps is yet another contribution to the Massachusetts drone industry by the MIT community.  The company, founded by then-MIT PhD candidates, Nikhil Vadhavkar and Eddie Obropta, helps agricultural firms reduce input costs by improving their ability to analyze crop data, while improving labor productivity. Eddie and Nikhil found the inspiration to start the business in the summer of 2014 during a NASA sponsored research trip to Pocatello, Idaho, where they observed NASA members use techniques such as Differential GPS, LIDAR, and drones to collect topographic data.

Acend Drone Insurance

acend insuranceAcend was founded in 2015 by Steve Rabbitt and Jason Griswold provides Usage Based Insurance (UBI) to drone operators in the United States.  Commercial drone operators can now obtain UBI through Acend’s automated platform. The Maynard, MA based company plans to launch its beta platform in early 2017, enabling drone pilots to track flight usage and statistics through technology provided by PrecisionHawk. Automotive insurers have unsuccessfully promoted wide-scale adoption of on-board technology to record data for a long time, but similar resistance from the drone pilot community seems unlikely.

Smartvid.io

Technology improvements and falling costs of video recording devices have turned virtually everyone into a videographer.  Smartvid is improving the ability of companies to manage the massive amount of photo and video files created from drone imagery.  The Cambridge startup has developed cloud-based software for identifying, tagging, and managing video and photo content from drones and other sources.

CyPhy

CyPhy has its sights set on the future of drone transportation and appears poised to be an early leader in the space.  Former iRobot co-founder and MIT engineer, Helen Greiner, founded the company and now serves as CTO.  The Waltham company made headlines last fall after partnering with UPS (an investor in the company) to test the aerial delivery of small package.

CyPhy has patents on two of the drones it has developed. Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications vehicle system (PARC) & the Pocket Flyer. The drones are powered by microfilament tethers that can help keep data secure and facilitate its reliable transfer. CyPhy says keeps data more secure and ensures more reliable data transfer. The Pocket Flyer is small enough to fit in a cargo pocket and can be controlled by a smartphone or tablet.

Neurala

Finally a Boston-area startup that is actually located in Boston. Neurala was founded by Boston University alums and makes its home close to the school’s Allston campus. Neurala has developed software enabling machine learning by numerous devices from toys to self-driving cars.  Although Neurala’s technology is not drone-specific, we added the company to the list because it is so darn cool.  Neurala’s software, the Neurala Brain, “mimics how the brain works to learn and provide real-time actionable information from ordinary cameras and/or other sensors.  In January 2017, the company announced it had raised $14 million in a series A funding round to help bring its artificial intelligence tools mainstream.

 

Ascendr

Ascendr was founded in 2015 by Kurt Fischman, formerly of Raytheon and Ground Signal, and Nick Johnson, a user interface expert of Grasshopper and Citrix.  Ascendr provides a platform enabling companies to deploy drone teams and pilots with ease.  The platform provides a sleek dashboard in which operators can automate communication with control towers, manage inventory, and track & manage key business metrics.

Panoptes

So your nephew got a toy drone for Christmas and insists on flying it indoors.  Scary thought now, but maybe not so much in the future.  Panoptes, based out of Cambridge, developed the eBumper 4, “the first commercially-available, sonar-based small drone obstacle avoidance system for low-speed and indoor operations.  The company was founded in 2014 as a spin-off from Aurora Flight Sciences.

 

About the Author

Adam Shore

Adam is a Central Florida alum who recently left the Orlando area to relocate to Denver, where he enjoys shooting aerial photography of the Rocky Mountains. And to ski. He is a member of the AMA and was been a drone photographer since the early days of the industry. Follow him @dronegenuity.

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