There is a reoccurring theme on the Verizon Ventures blog, which is the topic of drones. I’ve written a piece on the dawn of commercial drones and also discussed the tremendous impact it will have on a variety of industries during my AMA at Launch Festival. As the Verizon Ventures team looks to back emerging companies in the high-tech space, I’m proud to announce our investment in Skyward, the information management platform that powers the global aerial robotics network. In addition to building a digital system of record that enables safe, compliant, and insured commercial operations, Skyward’s team is made of professional pilots and information architects who are dedicated to proving the possibilities of drone technology.
On the heels of Skyward’s funding announcement, we asked CEO Jonathan Evans a few questions about their current initiatives and partnership with Verizon Ventures.
1. Can you set the stage? How did you first connect with Verizon Ventures and why did you choose Verizon?
We first met virtually on Angel List when Skyward was really just getting started…reading the entirety of what was known about drones on the Internet, going to conferences and learning the pain points for commercial operators. We were focused on connecting with key stakeholders that formed this early ecosystem and weren’t quite ready to solidify a partnership with a strategic investor during our first interactions. However, we knew early on Verizon Ventures was an ideal partner. As a company that aspires to be a network infrastructure provider, and one who sees drones as fundamentally more like cell phones than 747s, Verizon was a dream partner for us.
2. Last year you announced the Urban Skyways Project, how is that shaking out?
We’re working with our partners and the regulatory agencies in each country to plan flight routes and use cases for the Urban Skyways project. We anticipate our first Urban Skyways project will be in Vancouver, followed by a US demonstration in concert with NASA and their UTM project. We’ll continue to update project information on www.skyward.io/urbanskyways and on @SkywardIO on Twitter with the hashtag #urbanskyways.
3. Why are investors seeing value in drone technology and how will the legal landscape play out in the coming years?
We think investors see in drones a technology with the potential to transform many sectors. From transportation, public safety, forestry, and agriculture to construction, mapping, videography…the opportunity is broad and just beginning. In the US, restrictions on commercial use have caused some delays relative to Canada, Europe and Australia, where commercial uses are more generally allowed. However, the FAA has issued proposed rules for commercial uses, and in the past few months has significantly streamlined its process and accelerated its rate of approval for commercial drone operators. Today over 100 approvals have been granted, and there are over 900 applications pending – certainly a sign of the demand in the US.
4. In your experience, what's the best way to work with an investor like Verizon Ventures?
We are thrilled to have you as a board observer and look forward to your insight and advice on both Skyward's strategy and how best to tap into the many areas where Verizon services and infrastructure hold great potential to accelerate our business. For example, the Urban Skyways project may be an excellent campaign for Verizon to participate in, and showcase its role in enabling safe drone operations. The Verizon Innovation Center in San Francisco is another example of a potential opportunity for inclusion of Skyward.
5. What's next for Skyward in 2015?
Our primary focus for 2015 is to expand our engineering and product development team and build our product for commercial launch. As the regulations surrounding drones in the US evolve, we’ll continue to support our customers manage safe, compliant, and insured commercial drone operations on the Skyward network.