With a new round of funding, Verity Studios just became the world’s most well-funded company in the rapidly emerging commercial indoor drone market. It also has one of the largest autonomous flight datasets and a growing IP portfolio, including 33 patent applications, with six already granted in the US and internationally.
Founded in 2014, Verity was the first company to bring autonomous indoor drones to live events. They have done spectacular flying choreography with drones for Metallica and Cirque du Soleil, creating moments of pure magic for their audiences.
Founder Raffaello D’Andrea (pictured at left), a leading robotics and AI expert, was a co-founder of Kiva Systems, which was acquired by Amazon in 2012 and is now operating as Amazon Robotics. Raffaello is involved in all aspects of the business, including development for technology, business, and products. He was also the lead choreographer for the system that is on tour with Metallica.
Alumni Ventures Group, whose funds participated in Verity’s recent fundraise, caught up with Raffaello to talk about the future of drones, Verity, and his path to being an entrepreneur.
Reading your bio, it looks like you have a deep connection to your alma mater, Cornell.
Yes. I was a professor at Cornell University from 1997 to 2007, although I was mainly on leave from 2004 to 2007 focusing on Kiva. At Cornell, I was one of the co-founders of the Systems Engineering program, and the system architect and faculty advisor of the Cornell RoboCup team (4-time world champions!).
What sparked your entrepreneurial drive?
I like to create. As a professor, I get to create systems that do things that have never been done before—like robots that play soccer or drones that play ping-pong. As an entrepreneur, I get to create systems that create value and are financially viable. I am also an internationally exhibited new-media artist, with pieces in various prestigious collections; this is another creative outlet for me.
What are the three most important lessons that you’ve learned on your entrepreneurial journey?
Focus on your customer and create value for them. Surround yourself with the best people in the world and empower them to grow and make decisions (and yes, mistakes!). Be brutally honest with yourself, your team, and your customers.
How does Verity change the status quo in your industry? Which initiatives are you most excited about?
We are bringing the robotics and AI revolution to the live events industry, a very fertile ground. What makes it super-interesting for us is that the technology and know-how we develop can also be used in more traditional domains, such as logistics.
Can you give an example?
We have created a system where an unlimited number of autonomous drones, weighing only a few ounces, can fly in GPS-denied environments. Such a system can be used to deploy flying sensors that can move anywhere in a warehouse, at any time. In 2017 alone, our clients completed over 20,000 fully autonomous flights, in front of and over people. The possibilities and applications are tremendous.
What will the new round of fundraising for Verity go to?
We will continue to deliver cutting-edge robotics and AI to live events, creating new forms of expression while pioneering new live event technology. Not only will we expand our presence in live events, but we’ll work with drone manufacturers to incorporate our proven drone failsafe technology into their platforms to significantly increase the robustness and reliability of today’s drones.
What would you find a useful inspiration or outlet as an entrepreneur?
There really is no one single thing. I do save most of my major decision making, however, for when I’m hiking in the mountains here in Switzerland. I go on very long solo treks. The combination of the natural beauty and physical exertion clear my mind, and give me the perspective and insights I need to make decisions.
You can see some of Raffaello’s pictures below from a few of his excursions…
Alumni Ventures Group (AVG) is a different type of venture capital firm for individual investors who previously haven’t had access to high-quality, diversified venture portfolios. Learn more at www.AVGFunds.com.