Flying drone startup Ware says it will enable better inventory counting in warehouses by improving the artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities in its small aerial vehicles, thanks to $2.5 million in venture capital backing announced today.

The “seed round” was led by UP Partners, with participation from Bloomberg Beta, 2048 Ventures, angel investor Tom McInerney, and Adam Bry, the CEO of drone manufacturer Skydio.

San Francisco-based Ware says that warehouses and distribution centers need to improve the way they count and manage inventory in order to handle stresses caused by increased consumer e-commerce spending that has been accelerated by the pandemic.

“Understanding the true state of inventory in today’s massive warehouses requires a significant amount of manual labor and time-consuming routines,” Ware CEO Ian Smith said in a release. “Our investors understand how Ware is meeting this challenge. Their support is especially gratifying amidst the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 and the stress it has exerted on global supply chains.”

According to Ware, its self-flying drones soar throughout the warehouse, collecting images of pallet locations, data from barcodes, and other inventory information. They then return to “nests” inside the building, where they recharge and transmit data to Ware’s cloud platform. Finally, Ware’s processing engine analyzes the drone imagery, distills the data, and provides interactive reports to inventory control teams.

The concept of scanning warehouse goods from the air is not new—drone providers such as Pinc Solutions, Verizon’s Skyward division, and Intelligent Flying Machines Inc. have been installing limited applications for years—but the new backing for additional startups could show that the industry is ready to expand into wider use.

Another example is Pittsburgh-based Gather AI, a Carnegie Mellon University spin-off that also landed a recent seed round of $3.4 million for its network of indoor drones. “Inventory monitoring is not trivial; either you need a dense network of sensors or you need a dense network of people,” Gather co-founder Sankalp Arora said in a phone interview.

Fast and accurate data collection is particularly important in logistics, where applications such as air freight handling require a great speed of operations in order to load and dispatch cargo jets as quickly as possible, he said. But while rolling robots made by firms like Bossa Nova can provide autonomous inventory counts of goods stacked on store shelves or grocery counters, warehouse racks store goods far too high for their line of sight.

By loading sensors on a flying drone, users can count goods stored at any height at speeds from six to 10 times faster than human workers, the firm said. At that pace, Gather’s drones can scan 100 to 150 pallets within 15 to 20 minutes on a single battery charge. Each drone can use its own headlights to scan barcodes in the dark, or use infrared cameras to measure temperatures. It also uses those sensors to navigate, reading three-dimensional (3D) barcode markers distributed throughout a DC instead of relying on global positioning system (GPS) signals that can be blocked by buildings. After it lands, the drone downloads its data and either recharges or replaces its battery.

In a web-based demonstration flight through Gather’s offices, a magazine reporter activated one of the company’s drones, which proceeded to fly a pre-programmed path through a mock warehouse, scanning and counting scattered boxes on shelves before returning to base.


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