The U.S. government just spent a quarter of a million dollars on 3DR drones

Lest you think the days of 3D Robotics are over, the government just awarded the beleaguered California drone startup a fairly sizable contract.

The U.S. Department of the Interior last month awarded 3D Robotics a $228,900 contract for its Solo quadcopter drones, according to FedBizOpps, the federal government’s main contracting website.

The request, which was made by the U.S. Department of Interior, states that the drones would be “used for field work at various locations throughout the U.S.”

The deal could breathe life back into 3D Robotics, which has struggled in recent years — in particular with the production of its Solo drone. Customers reported a number of problems which have been well-documented in a piece in Forbes Magazine, including issues where the drone’s GPS system sometimes failed to connect correctly to ensure stable flight, causing the drone to fly away or crash.

What’s ironic is that the Department of Interior has documented similar issues, yet is still looking to purchase more 3D Robotics drones.

The agency last year put out a memo documenting “numerous trending Solo missions with flight characteristics that have included unstable flight and loss of GPS” and has reported instances of drones flipping during landing, primarily due to having multiple applications running at the same time.

“Additionally there have been several instances of aircraft losing GPS lock when flying in timbered areas or in steep terrain,” according to the DOI memo, which was released in August 2017.

Beyond failure with the drones themselves as well as stiff competition with DJI’s rapidly evolving drones, a series of mismanagement, ill-advised projections and a failed strategy that relied on a doomed flagship drone resulted in the company laying off more than 150 people, burning through almost $100 million in venture capital funding and completely changing its business strategy.

But while the DOI may have not yet given up on 3D Robotics, it appears that many other drone operators have. 3D Robotics in 2018 had just a 1% market share, according to the 2018 Drone Market Sector Report by Skylogic Research. That’s a paltry figure compared to DJI’s 74% market share.

Still, the Department of Interior has seen success with drones. As of the beginning of this year, the DOI had a fleet of 312 unmanned aircraft, which flew nearly 5,000 missions in 2017, ranging from fighting wildfires to monitoring dams and spillways and mapping wildlife. Besides using 3DR drones, the DOI also uses Pulse Vapor 55TM Helicopters, made by Pulse Aerospace.

One Comment

  • CantYouSee says:

    It makes some sense. It’s a US company and none of the problems the platform have are insurmountable. It might be a software tweak (or 20), a new antenna. and a GPS upgrade. You don’t mention it, but I wonder if it comes with/if DOI already has the SiteScan software. This would be a decent reason for the Gov to continue with the platform, not to mention they can get about 3X the number of drones of going with a DJI, which they won’t because of the security issues of going with a Chinese company.

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