Kitty Hawk raises $5 million capital to boost commercial drone services

Drone manufacturer and services start-up Kitty Hawk has just raised $5 million from its recent capital funding run – following on from the announcement of its new VTOL aircraft, the whimsically named Kitty Hawk Flyer.

This funding follows on from the company’s initial $1.5 million investment from its founder and CEO, Google co-founder Larry Page in June 2016.

The $5 million was raised by lead investor Bonfire Ventures – a Santa Monica-based seed fund for enterprise software. The other investors are Boeing’s start-up funding business HorizonX Ventures, Freestyle Capital, Kluz Ventures and returning investor The Flying Object.

Alongside the investment, Bonfire Ventures managing partner Jim Andelman will be joining the Kitty Hawk board of directors at an undisclosed date. The venture fund chose to invest in Kitty Hawk’s enterprise solution, which looks to provide companies with in-house training, aircraft and data to allow them to manage their own drones.

Mr Andelman said: "We were blown away by the quality of Kitty Hawk's enterprise customer base: Fortune 500 companies who themselves are leading the way in enterprise UAS adoption.

"We were impressed by not only this current level of traction but also by the team's thoughtfulness about the coming evolution of this industry. With their degree of forethought and vision, we're confident that Kitty Hawk will be well positioned to continue to lead the way. They're two steps ahead of how we heard everyone else thinking about this space."

Skill, not a profession

Kitty Hawk’s view on the future of the piloted drones is that the pilots will not operate the drones as a profession, but that people will be able to pilot them as a skill, closer to being able to drive a car than fly a jet or helicopter.

It decided to establish its enterprise solution to teach people on staff how to operate the drones that the company is buying. Kitty Hawk’s platform will allow businesses to manage the aircraft, airspace, data and compliance under one service.

Michael Blades, senior analyst at Frost & Sullivan said: "Kitty Hawk is in the unique position of being central to all of the enterprise stakeholders -- from data collectors to data consumers. Therefore, their market spans across a multitude of industries and verticals, they go deeper and wider than any other solution currently in the market."

Integrating drones

As a number of passenger drones and VTOLs are now open for reservation and hoping to hit the market as close as 2020, the need to integrate them into the existing airspace becomes ever more pressing. 

Kitty Hawk is developing an unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) traffic management system to incorporate piloted and autonomous air vehicles to coexist in the same airspace.

This was the main side of the business that Boeing HorizonX highlighted when it chose to invest in Kitty Hawk.

Brian Schettler, managing director of Boeing HorizonX Ventures said: "When paired with the broad portfolio of complementary data service offerings within Boeing, Kitty Hawk is poised to help us shape the future of safe autonomous flight. We are excited to explore new capabilities made possible through foresight, expertise and a focus on holistic solutions that support the safe integration of unmanned systems into the national airspace."

Kitty Hawk will also be partnering with Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen, which provides navigational information both to commercial and to business jet companies, to expand and regulate unmanned aircraft in the US. Together the companies will develop a UAS traffic-management system (UTM) processes as part of the FAAs Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) initiative.