DroneBase renewable energy

Grandson of one of the first drone pilots invests in DroneBase renewable energy efforts

A fire has been lit under the DroneBase renewable energy efforts, thanks to a new funding round — led by someone who has special ties to the drone industry.

DroneBase today announced the close of its Series C funding round, which entails $12.5 million of investment led by Union Square Ventures, with additional funding from Upfront Ventures, Hearst Ventures, and Valor Equity Partners, and Energy Transition Ventures. That brings the total funding raised by DroneBase to $37.5 million.

And one of those investors has close, personal ties to the drone industry. Neal Dikeman of Energy Transition Ventures is the grandson of Navy Captain Lt Cmdr Ray Woolrich, who is one of the first drone pilots.

“I had no idea how unique (his work was) until many years later, when I wrote a college paper on the program,” Dikeman told The Drone Girl. “The top secret WWII US Navy drone program called Stag One SATFOR that invented modern drone technology had just been declassified and the group, including my grandfather, was doing reunions, and I got to tag along. I think he and his colleagues would have loved knowing drones are now used to inspect infrastructure rather than blow it up.”

DroneBase, which is an aerial data analytics company based in Los Angeles, Calif., will use the funding to expand its work in solar and wind energy — a field DroneBase has been digging into over the past year and a half. DroneBase began as a sort of drone pilot directory, and has since grown to have 80,000 drone pilots in more than 70 countries on its roster. While many drone pilots do more straightforward work like real estate photography, many have experience in enterprise use cases to help companies manage their worksites, properties, and assets at scale.

And clients using DroneBase are big names, and DroneBase primarily targets Fortune 500 customers to get work, with 2020 being the year that it has largely focused on renewable energy. Much of the Dronebase renewable energy news kicked off in June 2020, when DroneBase it raised $7.5 million to expand its services to the renewable energy market with funding from companies including DJI.

With that money, the company launched a new product called DroneBase Insights for Wind and Solar, designed for DroneBase renewable energy clients to use drones to inspect the components of wind turbines.

DroneBase has taken major steps in the past year to corner the renewable energy market, including acquiring drone data provider Precision XYZ, and appointing former SunEdison executive Mark Culpepper to head its solar division.

“Aerial inspection is becoming table-stakes in the fast-growing renewables markets, and DroneBase is the only company able to serve both wind and solar globally with the largest drone and manned aircraft network in the world,” said Craig Lawrence, partner at Energy Transition Ventures.

Since its inception, DroneBase, which was incubated by Y Combinator, has completed more than 100,000 commercial missions flown in more than 70 countries and all 50 states.

And it does look like the DroneBase renewable energy focus efforts could be worthwhile, as the field continues to grow — and rely on drones. A study by BNEF, Bloomberg’s primary research service focused on clean energy, calculated that the use of drones on offshore wind farms in Europe could shave off more than $1,000 per turbine per year in inspection costs, thus reducing the cost of producing electricity by 1%.

Other companies besides DroneBase looking into aerial solutions to support the renewable energy industry include Swiss startup Skypull, which uses drones as flying turbines, and Google sister company Makani, which is developing what are essentially huge tethered kites.

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