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San Antonio Drone Company Expands, Wins Defense Contracts

The San Antonio-based drone maker, Darkhive Inc., has tripled its workforce and is planning to move into a new 10,000-square-foot facility in the Lone Star neighborhood south of downtown.

(TNS) — San Antonio drone maker Darkhive Inc. has tripled its workforce and is planning to move into a new 10,000-square-foot facility in the Lone Star neighborhood south of downtown.

CEO John Goodson said Thursday that employment at the private startup he founded in a garage in 2021 has grown to 15 and that he's decided to trade working remotely for setting up the company's headquarters along the River Walk near the Blue Star Arts Complex. He's aiming to move early in 2024.

"We're moving out of the garage," Goodson said. "We aren't a typical defense company, and we didn't want to live in a typical defense tech ZIP code. We want to be a part of the community, and we've always had a lot of love for South San Antonio."

The news comes a day after Darkhive said it had won four Defense Department contracts totaling $5 million to develop low-cost, autonomous drones for the U.S. Air Force, a sign of the military's increasing hunger for affordable unmanned drones. In late July, it announced a separate $5 million award.

The company now has won about $14 million in contracts, Goodson said, and is on target to hit at least $30 million by the end of 2024.

"Those contracts will drive volume sales for our products, drive the growth of our customer base, and enable us to expand our team in San Antonio," he said. "We've got a lot of work to do, but we feel good about our ability to get the job done."

Latest contracts

The company was awarded a pair of Phase II Small Business Innovation Research contracts, one Direct-to-Phase II contract and another Small Business Technology Transfer Phase II contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory's innovation hub to integrate and test next-generation autonomous software for drones, which the Department of Defense refers to as uncrewed aerial system platforms.

AFWERX, the Air Force's internal innovation accelerator, chose Darkhive for the contracts as part of its plans to streamline development of private-sector technology for military customers.

"The new contracts will support the further development and testing of our drone models and autonomy software," Goodson said.

He expects testing to happen next year at the company's new facility on the South Side.

Goodson, a former U.S. Navy combat technician who supported SEAL teams with tactical drones in Afghanistan, formed the company to make affordable drones for the military and public safety agencies.

Since its launch, the company has been developing its first product, known as Yellowjacket. The artificial intelligence-powered, 3D-printed, plastic drone is about the size of a mini laptop and weighs less than a pound.

The Android smartphone-controlled drone can fly at 20 mph for about 15 minutes. The business idea is that the drones, which are not armed, could be carried in backpacks and used for short-range reconnaissance, employing cameras and sensors to detect indoor and outdoor threats.

Goodson has said he hopes to start selling the Yellowjackets this year for about $5,000 each, which the company considered a low price compared to typical drones that cost $12,000 to $80,000.

For now, Darkhive's main customer is the military. It's also interested in selling drones to law enforcement agencies, which are already using drones to assess large traffic accidents, conduct search and rescue operations, and pursue suspects.

Earlier awards

In July, Darkhive won $5 million through a Phase III Small Business Innovation Research contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory to integrate and test next-generation, autonomous software for drones. Last year, it won $1 million in preseed funding as it shopped around the drones to potential customers in San Antonio and Austin, and it was awarded another $1.6 million from the Defense Department for five research and development grants.

"An open government-owned framework optimized for rapidly integrating, testing and securely deploying software to edge systems has been at the center of our mission from the beginning," Goodson said then in a statement. "The government and industry team supporting this effort is phenomenal. We're honored to have the opportunity to contribute to solving some very hard problems for DOD and, most importantly, delivering for the end user on the front lines."

Darkhive has received support from the San Antonio tech industry, which continues to strengthen partnerships between its established Defense Department presence and the private sector. It is in the portfolio of Austin-based Capital Factory, which expanded its Center for Defense Innovation — a program working to connect the military with businesses that can provide emerging technology — to the Boeing Center at Tech Port in San Antonio.

Darkhive is "poised to become a leading player in this exciting and growing (drone) industry," Capital Factory President Bryan Chambers said in March. The venture capital firm cited increased adoption of drones among commercial and government users, including the military.

© 2023 the San Antonio Express-News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.