In 3D Robotics CEO Chris Anderson’s future vision of the world, drones will collect detailed data for industrial applications and fly above an individual’s head like a pet bird.
With the Federal Aviation Administration set to release rules for commercial drones by 2015, that future is coming fast. 3D Robotics wants to be ready when it does. It will be aided by the $30 million it received today in Series B funding (see disclosure).
“Now that we’ve made these things work, it’s time to work with them,” Anderson said. “The applications are huge. We’re talking about entire industries like agriculture. Agriculture is incredibly complex, incredibly fragmented. It’s an entirely different world. It’s going to be a huge effort to integrate aerial robotics into the world of agricultural scenery and technology.”
Anderson said 3D Robotics has grown organically from a maker of drones for hackers and developers to a company on the verge of making flight accessible to the average user. He likened the shift to the move from PCs to tablets, where touch rules and the best user experience wins. It’s a period of “domestication,” at the end of which we’ll all be using drones.
“The question is what do people want? What is the most natural interface for that?” Anderson said. “I think over the next five years we’ll see these things become intuitive and friendly.”
3D Robotics already offers an Android app based on touch instead of programming. It allows a user to control 3D Robotics’ Iris quadcopter by drawing its path. Anderson said 3D Robotics’ platform also makes it possible for companies to focus on applications instead of just getting a robot to fly, opening up the ability to innovate.
“We’re exactly at that point right now with drones where we’re counting on users and entrepreneurs and developers out there to use these easy-to-use platforms to figure out all those easy-to-use applications,” Anderson said. “It will take a whole industry to figure it out.”
No matter how fantastical the applications, Anderson said he takes the greatest joy from experiencing an autonomous personal robot following him around.
“You have this completely unique perspective. It’s like a personal camera droid,” Anderson said. “To be honest, I just do it for fun. That sort of functionality, [it's] still kind of scifi for me.”
3D Robotics is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, the founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.