Airware: An operating system for drones

I’m excited to announce that Andreessen Horowitz, along with Google Ventures, is investing $10.7M in Airware, a startup that makes operating systems for flying robots, popularly known as drones.

Drones were first developed by the military. But as component prices drop and software becomes more sophisticated, drones are starting to be used in non-military applications.

One application is precision farming, which aims to decrease costs, increase yields, and reduce the environmental impact of farming. Farming accounts for about 70% of global water usage. Most experts think this is unsustainable. Using drones, farmers can inexpensively survey crops to better allocate water and fertilizer. Studies show this can raise food yields over 25% while decreasing water usage by 40%.

Other large markets are mapping, infrastructure inspection (e.g. pipelines and power lines), and civil applications (police, firefighters, and first responders). We expect many other uses to emerge over time. One of Airware’s early customers is a Kenyan wildlife conservancy that’s buying drones to prevent Rhino poaching.

Airware makes operating systems for low-cost, non-military drones. It’s a combination of hardware and software that’s designed to be customized by customers and third-party developers. Other companies make the actual drone body (the “airframe”), which can come in many forms such as helicopters, quadcopters, and fixed-wing airplanes.

The founder of Airware, Jonathan Downey, spent most of his life studying aviation and engineering. Like his parents and grandfather, he is a licensed, instrument-rated pilot. He studied computer science and electrical engineering at MIT, where he represented the university in drone-building competitions. He then built drones at Boeing, but left when he realized he could make low-cost drones on his own.

As investors, we try to back brilliant founders pursuing audacious ideas. Robotics has long been a field that overpromised and underdelivered. We think drones are the most likely way to rectify that, and Jonathan is the person to make it happen.