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March 1, 2021

Skydio, a drone startup cofounded by former MIT and Google unmanned aircraft scientists, has become the latest member of the unicorn club of $1 billion-valued businesses. It comes after a $170 million Series D round led by Andreessen Horowitz, taking the company’s total funding to $340 million. 

Based in Redwood City, California, Skydio has built its reputation as both the leader in autonomous flight with its small $999 drones as well as an alternative to the $15 billion valued industry lead DJI. It’s selling not just to consumers, but infrastructure companies, the military, search and rescue, and the police too. Amongst its publicly-known customers are the U.S. Army, the Drug Enforcement Administration, various local police agencies, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and what it calls the “largest ever enterprise drone deal” with EagleView for residential roof inspection.

Founded in 2014, Skydio released its first device in 2017, with the second iteration coming out in 2020. The X2, a more advanced and expensive drone designed for enterprise and military use, is out this year. It comes with a thermal camera and the ability to see in the dark, which previous models did not feature. Its most significant milestone this year came when it was chosen for final deployment in the Army Short Range Reconnaissance Program, indicating it will be one of the main suppliers for such military surveillance missions.

 “Autonomy is the key for drones to reach scale, and Skydio has established themselves as the defining company in this category. We’re excited to continue to invest in this magical combination of breakthrough technology, rapid growth, and an incredible team in a market that’s going through an inflection point,” said David Ulevitch, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. (According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission late last week, Skydio has raised $96 million of the $170 million round to date.)

As federal government customers, some local police departments and other businesses move away from DJI due to fears over its Chinese origins, Skydio is swooping in to fill the coming void. DJI denies it provides users videos or other content to the Chinese government. In December, DJI was put on the Commerce Department’s entity list banning U.S. companies shipping tech to the Chinese business, over claims it assisted in surveillance of Uyghur communities in the Xinjiang province. DJI said it had done nothing to be put on the list.

“We’re proving that a U.S. company can lead the way in this industry through AI and autonomy. Things are already pretty exciting, but we are just scratching the surface of what autonomous drones can do,” said Adam Bry, CEO and Skydio cofounder.