As the number of drones proliferates in cities and towns across America, government agencies are scrambling to find ways to manage the oncoming traffic that's expected to clog up their airspace.
Companies like Airmap and KittyHawk have raised tens of millions to develop technologies that can help cities manage congestion in the friendly skies, and now they have a new competitor in the Detroit-based startup, Airspace Link, which just raised $4 million from a swarm of investors to bring its services to the broader market.
The financing for Airspace Link follows the company's reception of a stamp of approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for low-altitude authorization and notification capabilities, according to chief executive Michael Healander.
According to Healander, what distinguishes Airspace Link from the other competitors in the market is its integration with mapping tools used by municipal governments to provide information on ground-based risk.
"We're creating the roads based on ground-based risk and we push that out into the drone community to let them know where it's okay to fly," says Healander.
That knowledge of terrestrial critical assets in cities and towns comes from deep integrations between Airspace Link and the mapping company ESRI, which has long provided federal, state and local governments with mapping capabilities and services.
"We’ve just spent the past month understanding what regulation is going to be around to support it. In two years from now every drone will be live tracked in our platform," says Healnder. "Today we’re just authorizing flight plans."
As drone operators increase in number, the autonomous vehicles pose more potential risks to civilian populations in the wrong hands.
Parking lots, sporting events, concerts -- really any public area -- could be targets for potential attacks using drones.
"Drones are becoming more and more powerful and smarter," EU Security Commissioner Julian King warned in a statement last summer, "which makes them more and more attractive for legitimate use, but also for hostile acts."
Already roughly half of the population of the U.S. lives in controlled airspace where drones flying with more than a half a pound of weight require flight plan authorization, according to Healander.
"We build out population data and give state and local governments a tool to create advisories for emergency events or any areas where high densities of people will be," says Healander. "That creates an advisory that goes through our platform to the drone industry."
Airspace Link closed a $1 million pre-seed round in September 2019 with a $6 million post-money valuation. The current valuation of the company is undisclosed, but the company's progress was enough to draw the attention of investors led by Indicator Ventures with participation from 2048 Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Matchstick Ventures, Detroit Venture Partners and Invest Detroit.
For Healander, Airspace Link is only the latest entrepreneurial venture. He previously founded GeoMetri, an indoor GPS tracking company, which was acquired by Acuity Brands.
I’ve been a partner of ESRI my entire life," says Healander. "I’ve been in the geospatial industry for four or five companies with them."
The company has four main components of its service. There's AirRegistry, where people can opt-in or out of receiving drone deliveries; AirInspect, which is a service that handles city and state permitting for drone operators; AirNetm, which works with the FAA to create approved air routes for drones; and AirLink, an API that connects drone operators with local governments and collects fees for registering drones.