Drone imagery firm DroneBase rebrands to Zeitview, lands $55M investment
Zeitview, the company formerly known as DroneBase, today announced that it raised $55 million to further develop its air and ground data capture tech. Led by Valor Equity Partners with participation from Union Square Ventures, Upfront Ventures, Euclidean Capital, Energy Transition Ventures and Hearst Ventures, the tranche -- which brings Zeitview's war chest to $114 million -- will be put toward product expansion, customer acquisition and ongoing recruitment efforts, CEO Dan Burton said in an interview with TechCrunch.
Zeitview was founded in 2014 with the goal of bringing a new resource to businesses: the sky. With a passion for drones and other cutting-edge tech, Burton says he saw an opportunity to use airborne robotics and sensors to capture data about how assets -- for example, solar panels and turbines -- change over time.
After serving in the military, Burton did a short stint at Goldman Sachs and made the leap in 2014 to launch Zeitview. He claims to have personally flown the company's first 100 or so drone missions.
"I was convinced that robotics could enable advanced inspections that were safer, faster, more accurate and more affordable than old-school analog inspections," Burton said via email. "For global customers in energy and infrastructure, Zeitview delivers advanced inspection software that improves asset performance and longevity while lowering operating cost."
I haven't checked Burton's math -- Zeitview's solutions might not actually be cheaper than manual inspections, depending on just how involved the inspections in question are. But it's fair to say that it's more technologically sophisticated.
Using drones, Zeitview captures data -- including images and thermal readings -- on infrastructure like wind turbines and solar panels and runs that data through AI algorithms. The algorithms screen for anomalies such as damaged turbine blades and classify them, alerting customers to issues as they crop up.
Zeitview deals not only with asset owners but with investors, utility companies and policymakers, to whom it sells inspection imagery and machine learning-powered insights. For example, Zeitview scans large-scale solar plants and rates them on a scale of one to three, where each letter represents an aspect of the sites' condition; the ratings are then bundled into a premium reporting service.
Image Credits: Zeitview
Since its founding, Zeitview claims it's deployed drones to snap photos of wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean, real estate complexes after a Texas hurricane and thermal data from "utility-scale" solar farms.
"We have expertise across asset classes and we support any way a customer wants to capture data: as a service all over the world via our network, inspect themselves using our software or hybrid models," Burton said. "We focus on reducing our customers' operations and maintenance spend while providing safer, faster and more accurate answers."
Drones might no longer be the buzzword of the moment, but investors continue to shower specialized drone ventures -- like those with analytics components -- with capital. According to one source, VC investments in drone companies reached $7 billion in 2021 across 199 deals, up from $2.4 billion in 2022.
Zeitview competes with vendors like PrecisionHawk, Skyspecs and Raptor Maps in the emerging drone services market. Other rivals include Prenav, which is developing a drone-based system that lets companies remotely inspect infrastructure such as buildings and cell phone towers, and Saildrone, which operates a fleet of seafaring drones that collect data from the world’s oceans.
For its part, Zeitview, which has around 200 employees, claims to count among its customer base "many of the leading OEMs in renewable energy as well as major asset owners and operations and maintenance providers for wind and solar assets" -- plus insurance, roofing and property management companies. "As a startup enabling advanced inspection, we accelerated during the pandemic with robotics-based solutions that leveraged local operators and global software," Burton added.
Zeitview, it must be noted, is benefiting from the strength of the broader segment for aerial imaging. Global Market Insights predicts that it'll reach $25 billion by 2032, driven by technological advancements and innovation. As the report notes, aerial photography plays a "major," very timely role in documenting the effects of climate change, protecting resources and -- optimistically -- reducing emissions, among many others.
"A rise in the cases of natural disasters, such as floods, tropical cyclones, storm surges and wildfires, will amplify the significance and demand for advanced aerial imaging solutions to assess the damages caused by such events," the Global Market Insights authors wrote.
Those thoughts align with Energy Transition Ventures' Neal Dikeman's. He said via email:
"Aerial inspection is a fundamental requirement in the renewable energy and infrastructure industry, and Zeitview stands out as the only company capable of providing this service in the built environment, renewables and utility infrastructure sectors globally," Burton said. "Their commitment to reducing inspection costs for customers worldwide positions them as a leader in driving the energy transition market forward."