Menlo Park drone firm doing so well it’s moving to bigger campus

Kespry Drone Roof Measurement

This post originally appeared on http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_30047677/drone-firm-doing-so-well-its-moving-bigger?source=rss.

[Editor’s Note: Menlo Park is the number one spot in the US for commercial drone registrations.]

MENLO PARK — A 3-year-old commercial drone maker is expanding so rapidly it’ll move from its Belle Haven headquarters to a larger campus next month.

It doubled a 25-person workforce over the past year and plans to quadruple that number to 200 over the next two years.

All that, and it’s only been selling its drone for a year.

“Sales are so high, we are running as fast as we can to keep up,” said Kespry CEO Paul Doersch.

That may not be a big surprise, given that Menlo Park last month was named the nation’s top spot for commercial drone registrations, based on Federal Aviation Administration data.

Although Kespry, now located at 1090 O’Brien Drive, isn’t ready to say exactly where it is moving, Doersch said it will be to a different Menlo Park neighborhood.

“We’re moving into several buildings,” Doersch said. “We’re taking over new buildings and doing a number of improvements.”

Kespry announced Tuesday it had completed a $16 million Series B funding round, which included investments from DCM Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners, venture capital firms located in Sharon Heights. Lightspeed led the round with a $10 million investment.

Also on Tuesday, the FAA issued new rules for the commercial drone industry that essentially loosen restrictions, which can only boost Kespry’s sales.

Kespry manufactures drones designed to operate in harsh conditions that it leases or sells to construction, mining and survey industries to monitor work sites.

As of late August, when the new rules go into effect, operators will no longer need to spend thousands of dollars acquiring a pilot’s license or hundreds of hours waiting for paperwork to be processed. Anyone 16 or older will instead be able to apply for a remote pilot certificate, which involves either taking a written test or online training course, as well as being vetted by the Transportation Security Administration.

“The new rules open everything up more conveniently,” Doersch said.

Kespry is also partnering with NVIDIA, a Santa Clara-based tech company, on a drone prototype. The prototype will be able to “see, think and navigate on (its) own,” according to Deepu Talla of NVIDIA. Doersch said the aim of the collaboration in part is to build a drone that removes all possible human error.

“Our current product is so autonomous there are no joysticks,” Doersch said. “We want it to not involve the human at all. … Any time a human has to make sure the area is clear (before the drone is put into operation), you’re allowing for the human to make a mistake.”

Employing powerful, tiny computers built by NVIDIA, the prototype would allow Kespry’s drone to thoroughly understand an environment, locate and distinguish between different types of vehicles — such as between a truck and a tractor — and detect possible damage, or other changes, that have occurred in the environment since it was last assessed.

“You train the neural network by giving it thousands of images of both (a truck and a tractor),” Doersch said. “And NVIDIA’s powerful computers allow for that.”

Kespry recently expanded to the insurance industry, crafting technology that allows its drones to quickly collect aerial inspection data to be used for such tactics as commercial roof inspections and claims adjustments.

“It’s our job to teach the world what aerial drones are for,” Doersch said. “We make sure to focus on applications the world is ready for. … It’s an important challenge of self-control.

“Someday soon, we’re going to be moving entire economies with this type of data across the world.”

Goldman Sachs is projecting that commercial drones will be the fastest-growing portion of the global drone market over the next five years, with an anticipated $20.6 billion in sales over that period.

Email Kevin Kelly at kkelly@bayareanewsgroup.com or call him at 650-391-1049.

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