Startup pitches invariably involve futures where the skies are thick with drones — delivery, transportation, emergency response. In that seemingly inevitable scenario, tracking and hunting down out of control and malicious unmanned vehicles will likely be a pretty lucrative field.
It’s something Fortem’s been working on for a few years now. In May of 2016, the company purchased radar technology from IMSAR. A year later, the Utah-based company raised a $5.5 million seed to help grow the tech into a compact drone detection system. Today, the startup announced that it’s closed its Series A — $15 million, led by Palo Alto-based VC firm, Data Collective (DCVC), which also played a key role in the seed round.
For CEO Timothy Bean, the fundraising round represents a testament to the accuracy of the company’s core TrueView technology — an AI-powered 360-degree radar system that weighs a pound-and-a-half and is roughly the size of a pencil case. “This is a huge validation for our technology,” Bean said in a call to TechCrunch this week, “that it works and works well.”
TrueView’s compact size means the technology can go beyond simply serving as ground-based radar. The product can be mounted directly onto a robust drone, giving the device a complex vision to help it detect and avoid objects smaller than a can of soda. The company believes that utilizing such technology could go a ways toward loosening line-of-sight restrictions that have made it difficult for drone-based business to execute their plans.
“Billions of dollars have been spent on the drone economy,” said Bean. “The current rules require you to have a human monitoring the aircraft,” Bean told TechCrunch. What we tend to do is remove the joystick and enable these machines to fly beyond the line of sight. All of the different companies that want to deliver packages, provide search and rescue, air taxis — it’s a billion-dollar industry and we’re right at the forefront.”
Last year, the startup also demoed DroneHunter, a technology designed to help alleviate those problem drones by shooting net at them. Pretty cool.
Other investors in the round include Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala, and Boeing’s venture wing, HorizonX, which clearly has a vested interest in keeping the skies safe. Bean says the money will go toward scaling the business and marketing side of the company and adapting the technology to fit a wider variety of aircraft. Fortem will also be growing its staff, which currently numbers just less than 100.