Flytrex, which is conducting a drone delivery pilot in North Carolina with Walmart (NYSE: WMT), has secured $9.3 million in additional funding to expand its operations and finalize Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification for drone deliveries.
Total funding for the company is now $20.3 million after it received $3 million in a Series A on Jan. 3, 2017, and an additional $8 million in a Series B on Jan. 8, 2019, according to Crunchbase. The latest round includes $8 million led by existing investors Benhamou Global Ventures (BGV) and btov and $1.3 million in the form of an Israeli Innovation Authority grant.
Flytrex is based in Tel Aviv.
“Our mission is to make widespread on-demand drone delivery the rule rather than the exception – and this funding is a vote of confidence from our investors that we are indeed on the way to making this a reality,” said Yariv Bash, CEO and co-founder of Flytrex.
Flytrex said it will use the funding to scale across the U.S. and expand its production and research and development capabilities.
“Flytrex has been participating in the Federal Aviation Administration’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) since 2018 and was most recently selected for the FAA’s subsequent initiative, BEYOND, to work with the Kansas Department of Transportation as well as the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the North Dakota Department of Transportation to help tackle the remaining challenges of UAS integration,” Bash said.
In November 2020, Flytrex was included on the FAA’s select list of drone companies set to gain airworthiness certification and is now in the final stages of that, it said.
The FAA rules require unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to broadcast identification or location information and allow operators of small drones to fly over people and vehicles, and at night under certain conditions. In January, the FAA approved a waiver request by American Robotics Inc. that allows the company to fly drones beyond the visual line of sight of operators, something that is not currently allowed under existing regulations.
L.E.K. Consulting predicts that drones will make 30% of same-day package deliveries by 2040.
“It’s been thrilling to watch Flytrex become a world leader in the drone delivery space with multiple airborne delivery systems around the world,” said Barak Ben Avinoam, managing partner at BGV Europe and Israel. “The Flytrex team is trailblazing both innovation and implementation in the drone industry, and we look forward to seeing their airborne delivery reach more and more delighted consumers across the globe.”
In a February interview with Modern Shipper, Bash noted the challenges that lie ahead for drone providers like Flytrex, topped mainly by public acceptance.
“A decade ago, if you said to someone the word drone, they would have thought a military drone in Afghanistan shooting hellfire [missiles]. Today, if you think about drones, it’s the annoying 20-year-old neighbor … whizzing one by your head,” he said. “The public meaning of [what a drone is] will change again as we see more and more delivery drones. The first few times someone gets a delivery by a drone, they are outside taking pictures of the delivery. By the third or fourth time, they just go outside and pick up their package.”
Flytrex’s drone doesn’t land to deliver its cargo, which can weigh up to 6.6 pounds. Instead it lowers it to the ground on a wire, releases it and flies on its way. The company is focused on building drone solutions for suburban neighborhoods.
“We’re meant to sell to the suburbs and private houses,” he said. “You don’t see too many [topography] changes in the suburbs — nobody is erecting skyscrapers. We believe that drone deliveries will enable you to enjoy that ubiquitous kind of instant delivery. If you are making dinner and you need tomatoes, you can buy them now and have them delivered quickly.”
In North Carolina, Flytrex drones are delivering grocery and household items as well as restaurant takeout like Starbucks coffees and Dairy Queen Blizzards.
“The drone was designed from day one for retail and food delivery applications,” Bash said. “If I told FedEx (NYSE: FDX) to deliver a pizza to your house, it sounds very weird, even though FedEx delivers to your house. This was purpose-built for these types of applications.”