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Two Startups Aim to Help Government Work with Drones

AirMap and Matternet both inched forward in their public sector work this week.

Two drone startups made have made progress on work that could help government this week.

One is AirMap, a drone-routing platform that closed on a $26 million Series B fundraising round Thursday. The other is Matternet, which is striking up a partnership with a local fire protection district in California where it aims to demonstrate its ability to deliver emergency supplies.

AirMap’s fundraising round, which brings its total fundraising amount to about $44 million since 2015, includes some big names: Microsoft Ventures, Airbus Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures all participated. The company offers drone operators flight planning tools that include restricted air spaces, air traffic notifications and weather updates.

It also offers a digital notice and awareness system that lets airports know when and where drone flights are happening — a growing need as more drones take to the skies and airports look to restrict them from entering their space. According to AirMap’s website, more than 125 airports are using the system.

But digital noticing is also something city governments might turn to in the future as well. In September, the National League of Cities published a model ordinance including a clause requiring operators to notify the city when they fly their drones — with some exemptions.

“As regulations evolve, as technology improves and as drones benefit our lives in ways we can’t imagine today — we at AirMap are singularly focused on ensuring that the future of drones is safe, connected and collaborative,” the company's co-founders wrote in a blog post announcing the fundraising round.

Matternet’s progress came in the form of unanimous approval from the Menlo Park, Calif., Fire Protection District’s board of directors to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the company. The MOU, which the San Jose Mercury News reported could lead to a more formal legal arrangement in the future, sets up a partnership in which Matternet hopes to explore building a platform that would allow drones to serve emergency response teams.

“The purpose of this landmark agreement and MOU will be too [sic] specifically partner with Matternet to explore payload options for delivery during emergencies,” the board’s agenda item reads. “Such as defibrillators, oxygen, medical equipment, life preservers or communications equipment, and/or to create individual fire service payload options, or packages that could enhance our operations by including advanced situational awareness firefighter tracking equipment, cameras, chemical sensor systems, enhanced scene lighting and other beneficial equipment.”

Matternet is getting into territory that state and local governments across the U.S. are beginning to explore — in December, state police in Massachusetts started a drone program for surveying and reconstructing car crashes.

The company has already partnered with Mercedes-Benz to work on vehicles that could serve as drone-launching platforms. To date, it has raised about $13 million in seed funding, including $3.5 million from Andreessen Horowitz.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.