Verizon’s Skyward unexpectedly shuts down

In news that was unexpected even to most Skyward employees, the drone company that was acquired by Verizon is shutting down.

Skyward is an Oregon-based company that provides a drone software platform designed to support operational control for drone programs including the InFlight mobile app, LAANC access to controlled airspace, and Mapping & Modeling powered by Pix4D. The company was acquired by telecommunications giant Verizon in 2017. Outside of its software, it also offers a range of services including drone training, consulting, and connectivity.

But all of that is set to come to an end this summer. The company sent out an email to customers announcing the end of its services for drone pilots. Customers will have support for their flight operations through June 30, 2022.

Here’s a snippet of the email that was sent out to Skyward customers:

Hello valued customer,

We are announcing today that Skyward, A Verizon company, will be ending operations in the coming weeks.

This is not an easy decision. The Verizon Robotics team will be focusing our efforts on ground robot management, connectivity services, and solutions development.

We apologize for the inconvenience that this will cause you.

We seek to give you the smoothest possible transition off Skyward without significantly impacting your flight operations. In compliance with our terms of service, we will continue to support the Skyward Drone Management Platform through June 30 2022, at which point users will no longer have access.

Rest assured that Verizon is committed to data security and privacy. All customer data in Verizon systems will be handled in accordance with Verizon’s data privacy and document retention policies. We will send you more details very soon.

The news gives Skyward’s existing customers only about two months to find an alternative platform to manage their drone flights. That said, DroneDeploy founder Michael Winn, whose company is generally seen as a Skyward competitor, was quick to sympathize — and also capitalize on the news:

” The company remains focused on its investment in ground robotic management, connectivity services, and solution development, according to a statement provided by Verizon to The Drone Girl. “The Verizon Robotics Group enables enterprise customers to efficiently adopt and scale Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) to improve productivity, deliver faster time to insight, and reduce costs through automation and 5G.”

While it’s still not entirely clear what will happen to all of Skyward’s assets, many employees were unexpectedly laid off, according to their social media posts.

A Verizon spokesperson said it expects that some employees will still stay with Verizon Robotics, while others will transfer to other positions within Verizon. But others, like those who have posted on the Internet above, will have to find opportunities elsewhere.

The news feels particularly unexpected given that Skyward employees just returned from the AUVSI XPONENTIAL 22 conference, where the company had a fairly strong presence. Verizon Robotics ran a booth where Skyward hosted demos on making maps with drones, discussed BVLOS drone flights and more. Skydio also won second place in AUVSI’s Xcellence awards in the category of Technology for Software, Design, and Coding.

Verizon and Skyward have had a fairly robust presence in the drone industry. Skyward say on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Drone Advisory Committee (known as DAC), giving it a fairly strong voice in providing the FAA with advice on drone-related integration issues.

The company made a splash at CES 2021 when it revealed its collaboration with UPS Flight Forward (the drone delivery arm of UPS), announcing that it was testing 5G integration for drone delivery of retail products at The Villages in Florida. That partnership began in 2020, when Verizon, UPS Flight Forward, and Skyward started testing 4G LTE in delivery drones to demonstrate cellular reliability and performance at altitude. Verizon’s Skyward also had a unique Memorandum of Agreement with the FAA where it would propose standards for operations, including BVLOS flights, and flights occurring over the commercial wireless spectrum.

The Pendleton UAS Range. Photo courtesy of Verizon Robotics.

And at the beginning of this year, Verizon Robotics said it would head to Oregon’s Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems Range to test various proof-of-concept capabilities primarily around long range robotics. 

Skyward sits within Verizon’s broader Robotics Business Technology unit, which also includes a company called incubed IT which builds software for autonomous mobile robots and was acquired by Verizon in February 2021.

And a Verizon spokesperson confirmed that other aspects of Verizon Robotics would forge on.

“This decision is about market agility and ensuring that Verizon continues to focus on areas that provide both near and mid-term growth opportunities,” a Verizon spokesperson told The Drone Girl. “We continue to focus our investment on ground robotics including incubedIT, supporting industrial and outdoor uses in the US and Europe.”

Are you surprised by the news that Skyward is shutting down? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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