Mapping startup DroneDeploy takes to Australian skies in a bid to help save the Great Barrier Reef


The Great Barrier Reef off the northeastern coast of Australia in December 2017. Source: AAP.

Drone mapping startup DroneDeploy is on a mission to improve the world from the air, and in Australia, that begins with the Great Barrier Reef.

Founded in 2013 by best friends Mike Winn, Nick Pilkington and Jono Millin, DroneDeploy began life in the AngelPad seed-stage accelerator program in San Francisco.

It provides drone mapping software, and now has one of the largest drone data sets in the world, and 110 employees.

In June 2018, the startup raised US$25 million ($34 million) in Series C funding, led by Invenergy Future Fund, the largest independent green energy firm in the US.

The round also included Aussie VC firm AirTree, along with existing investors Scale Venture Partners, Uncorked Capital and Emergence Capital.

The idea for the startup came about when chief executive Mike Winn was working with nature parks in his native South Africa.

“Poaching is a massive problem there, in particular rhinoceros. I’ve been flying helicopters and drones for over a decade and knew they could solve the problem,” Winn tells StartupSmart.

As he began to look into the issue, he discovered the hardware wasn’t the issue. Rather, it was difficult to find software that people could use to easily view and understand what the drones were capturing.

“DroneDeploy was born out of the idea that we should create software that makes it possible for any person to use a drone for commercial reasons, collect the data and get it to where it needs to be,” Winn says.

According to Winn, DroneDeploy is the only drone-mapping app offering data mapping in real time.

“Drones stream video through our platform, which extracts frames and builds real-time maps. This enables a much faster response time during emergencies,” Winn says.

The software can be used in the cloud or downloaded from the app store.

Additionally, there are more than 80 ready-to-install apps and integrations that extend the DroneDeploy platform.

Saving the Great Barrier Reef

DroneDeploy is now working with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), gathering critical data in a bid to help save the Aussie icon.

Drones can allow scientists and conservationists to monitor the entire area for a fraction of the cost of conventional aerial mapping, Winn says.

Capturing images of something the size, scope and complexity of the Great Barrier Reef can be difficult, and potentially damaging. Drone technology allows for surveys of reef health, while minimising human interference, Winn says.

Drones let the GBRMPA quickly identify issues that could affect the health of the reef and efforts to care for it, such as algae blooms, man-made hazards and illegal activity, he adds.

Australia is DroneDeploy’s second-largest market behind the US, with customers using the product in the mining, agriculture and construction industries. There are also opportunities for the startup in the solar and energy space.

“Climate change is very important in the world right now,” Winn says.

“Solar energy is growing in a very exciting way. In the US, more than half of all new energy deployed in the last year was solar.”

DroneDeploy is also working with Team Rubicon Australia, an organisation pairing skilled Australian Defence Force veterans with emergency responders, in a bid to quickly deploy emergency response teams, globally.

Ultimately, DroneDeploy’s core mission is to help people, Winn says.

“We want our product to enable organisations that are having a positive impact on the health of the world’s people, habitats, and history,” he adds.

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