Sydney-founded, Reno-based drone startup Flirtey has raised a US$16 million ($21.3 million) Series A round led by existing backers Menlo Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures, with participation from Lowercase Capital, Y Combinator, and World Innovation Lab, reports TechCrunch.
The funding comes after a strong 2016 for Flirtey. The startup last March completed the first fully autonomous urban drone delivery approved by the US Federal Aviation Administration in Nevada, delivering a package containing bottled water, emergency food, and a first aid kit to a residential setting.
In April its six-rotor urban drone was accepted for display in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, before launching a series of trials with 7-Eleven and Domino’s in New Zealand, with the first commercial Domino’s delivery completed in November.
Managing director of Menlo Ventures Mark A. Siegel, who has joined Flirtey’s board as part of the funding deal, told TechCrunch his firm backed Flirtey because it is already seen as a leader in the space.
“People will be very surprised when they find out how real this is. The regulatory environment will benefit those companies with most flight hours and safest track records,” Siegel said.
Flirtey is certainly getting its flight hours up with its work across the US and New Zealand. As it positions itself as a leader, the other big name in the space, Amazon, in December announced it had successfully conducted a trial of its Prime Air drone delivery service in the UK.
Having been perhaps the first company to push the idea of delivery by drone beyond the tech community and into the mainstream, Amazon delivered a TV streaming device and bag of popcorn to a customer, with the company stating the delivery was fully autonomous.
Of course, taking to the skies isn’t the only way to deliver. After announcing it had raised US$17.2 million in seed funding last week, Estonian startup Starship Technologies has begun trials of its ground delivery robots in Washington DC and California’s Redwood City.
Working with Postmates in Washington and DoorDash in Redwood City, the robots will go into a restaurant to pick up a delivery, then head to the delivery address. The goal is to have these deliveries be fully autonomous; in these trials however they will be working with handlers.
According to TechCrunch, Flirtey’s funding will go towards running more deliveries for existing customers and to expand its reach to new customers in the US, New Zealand, and in Japan.
Operations in Australia are a different story; while the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in September relaxed a number of regulations around commercial unmanned flights, the likes of a pizza delivery by drone is still some ways off.
Australia Post conducted closed trials last April and is looking to work with CASA to run further tests this year, however under current regulations drone operators cannot fly their drone beyond their line of sight.
Image: Flirtey drone. Source: Supplied.