Saildrone raises $14M to expand its fleet of ocean-going drones

Aerial drones may be getting all of the attention these days, but they are far from the only mobile-robot game in town. Alameda-based drone startup Saildrone Inc. has brought drone technology to the high seas with a fleet of autonomous watercraft, and today the company announced that it has just raised $14 million in Series A funding to expand its operations and further develop its sailing drones’ ability to gather ocean data. The investment round was led by Social Capital, along with other investments by the Capricorn Investment Group and Lux Capital.

Saildrone’s watercraft are designed to roam the oceans and gather valuable data for a wide range research purposes, including oceanography, climatology, fish stock analysis, environmental monitoring, and more. The drones navigate to their destination using purely wind power, meaning that their energy costs are incredibly low. Once they arrive at their destination, they can remain in place or travel along predetermined survey routes.

Saildrone noted that its new funding will enable it to further develop its drones’ data gathering capabilities, which the company says can have incredibly beneficial effects across the globe.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with like-minded investors, who are mission driven and have deep expertise in marrying innovative hardware with big data,” said Richard Jenkins, founder and CEO of Saildrone. “Data collected by the Saildrones will not only transform the understanding of our oceans, but will also bring insight into issues like weather, fish populations, ocean acidification and climate change — processes that will affect every person on this planet. Understanding these processes, and their rate of change, is crucial to our economies and ultimately, our survival.”

Braving the briny deep

According to Saildrone, its drones have already travelled more than 60,000 nautical miles all around the world, and they have been used to research everything from receding ice shelves in the Bering Sea near Alaska to hurricane patterns in the Atlantic ocean. The drones transmit the data they gather via satellite, allowing researchers to keep up with the project in real-time using Saildrone’s API.

While one of the primary benefits Saildrone offers is greatly reduced costs compared to manned research mission, the drones are also capable of operating in conditions that could be incredibly dangerous, allowing researchers to survey locations and phenomena that might otherwise be impossible.

“The most valuable technology companies of our generation are ones that collect massive and important data sets,” said Ted Maidenberg, co-founder and partner at Social Capital. “Oceans cover over 70 percent of the earth’s surface, but we know very little about them due to the historically prohibitive cost of research. At Social Capital, we’re excited about the vast commercial applications of Saildrone-collected data as well as how these unprecedented insights into our oceans will help the world move beyond debate and into action when it comes to climate change.”

Image courtesy of Saildrone Inc.

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