An ex-Facebook and Google exec is joining an Israeli autonomous drone startup

AiroboticsRichard Wooldridge.
  • Richard Wooldridge, an ex-Facebook and Google executive, is joining an Israeli drone startup as COO.
  • Airobotics builds autonomous drones that are used in industry, from mines to ports.
  • It has landed $US71 million in funding and is growing 500% year-on-year.

Airobotics, an Israeli startup building autonomous drones for industrial uses, has nabbed a former Google and Facebook executive to be its new chief operating officer (COO).

For most people, quadcopter drones conjure up images of cool aerial photography – or hobbyists playing with their toys in the local park. But there has quietly been an aerial revolution brewing with in specialised industry, with the tech promising to transform historically menial, labour-intensive, or pricey tasks.

Airobotics, founded in 2014 and with $US71 million in venture capital under its belt, is one of the startups pushing this vision – counting early customers in the mining industry and shipping. On Tuesday, the company announced its new COO, Richard Wooldridge, a veteran Google and Facebook exec who worked as COO as both the tech giants’ hardware labs, ATAP and Building 8 respectively.

Previously an investor in Airobotics, Wooldridge is coming on board to help scale the company as it grows over the next few years, he told Business Insider (the company is currently enjoying 500% year-on-year growth, he said).

The company’s model is to build rent drones to its customers and assist them in programming “missions” – whether that’s inspecting a crane for wear-and-tear, or tracking the locations of RFID-chipped police officers in crowds (a proposed use-case; regulatory hurdles mean the company doesn’t currently operate its machines in urban environments).

These missions are autonomous – meaning a pilot isn’t needed to control the drone – and Airobotics then crunches the data the drone gathers, presenting it in a dashboard to help customers make sense of it.

The company isn’t profitable, and doesn’t expect to be for several years, Wooldridge said: Developing and building hardware is a capital-intensive business. (He declined to discuss company revenues.)

Airobotics is licensed to fly its drones out of the line of sight of any human pilots in its native Israel, and is hoping for similar certification elsewhere. Wooldridge envisions a future a few years down the line where drones are used for everything from organ transplant transportation to post-flood mapping, and in talks with organisations ranging from airports to homeland security.

But the company is clear on one thing – it will never arm its drones.

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