Japanese startup snags $1.7M to develop drones for underwater maintenance work


See the original story in Japanese.

Ambient Intelligence Technology, a Japanese startup developing and manufacturing underwater drones, announced on Monday that it has fundraised 190 million yen (about $1.7 million) in the latest round. This round was led by Beyond Next Ventures with participation from Mitsui Sumitomo Insuarance Venture Capital, SMBC Venture Capital, and Freebit Investment. Using the funds, the company intends to accelerate the spread of business-use drones for maintaining and managing underwater infrastructure, aiming to start drone rentals by November in addition to drone sales by next spring.

The company was launched back in 2014 by CEO Shohei Ito and Chairman Yasushi Nakauchi. Ito graduated from College of Engineering Systems, University of Tsukuba, while Nakauchi is a professor majoring in human-robot interface and intelligent environments at the University of Tsukuba. They are focused on developing and manufacturing underwater drones, especially the high demand types that can dive down to a depth of 300 meters, or 980 feet. Since even a typical diving professional can go down to a depth of about 40 meters (130 feet) only, a hard-to-operate and expensive Remotely Operated Vehicle is used to check out much lower depths. While momentum is building to set better maintenance and management procedures for improved service life of dams and ports, the company is looking to introduce underwater drones into this market.

Spider, an underwater drone product to be released from the company next spring, has eight thrusters and can be connected to the mother ship through use of a single tether cable. Operated via game pad, the drone can dive to a depth of 300 meters and has a maximum battery capacity of about four hours. This drone has as its biggest feature a software which enables computer vision-based position holding and automated depth/attitude control for the drone body. By utilizing such features, the drone allows users to easily monitor and research water environments even if faced with strong currents.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy