Vtrus Gets $2.9M For Drones That Inspect Indoor Industrial Equipment

Vtrus, a Seattle-based startup developing drones designed to autonomously inspect equipment in factories and other indoor settings, has raised more than $2.9 million to support its commercialization efforts, according to a regulatory filing.

Nine investors participated in the equity funding round, the filing shows.

Reached by phone on Thursday, a spokesperson for Vtrus declined to comment on the startup’s technology, timeline for reaching the market, or plans with the new cash.

Many people first learned about unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, after the U.S. and other nations began using them in military operations overseas. Over the past several years, though, businesses have been advocating for using these flying vehicles for tasks like tracking retailers’ inventories and monitoring crop fields.

Vtrus, which launched in 2017, says on its website that the drones it’s developing can be used to inspect items like seal pots, which prevent steam from reaching equipment, and motors that power industrial-scale mixers. Having humans inspect machines and parts that are installed dozens or hundreds of feet above ground level comes with the risk they could fall and get injured, of course. Another approach is to mount surveillance cameras to the walls or the ceiling, though using a drone offers the advantage of being able to examine objects from any angle.

The drones developed by Vtrus (pronounced like “citrus,” but with a “v”) are outfitted with multiple cameras, sensors, and a thermal imager that can help users tell if a piece of equipment is overheating, the startup says. Its flagship drone, which Vtrus calls ABI Zero, can operate without a human pilot or GPS-based flying instructions, though users do have the ability to set waypoints ahead of time.

After a flight is complete, users can review 3D maps generated by the drone’s software, as well as photos and videos tagged with location data. These media “can help make post-inspection analysis more efficient,” Vtrus says on its website.

According to a TechCrunch report from September, ABI Zero can spend about 10 minutes in the air if its battery is fully charged. It takes about 30 minutes to charge the battery, according to the report, meaning the drone could fly for a maximum of six hours per day. (Vtrus says it’s developing the charging stations to be able to receive data over a Wi-Fi connection during drone flights, and upload the information to the company’s cloud servers.)

One member of Vtrus’s founding team, Renato Salas-Moreno, previously co-founded Surreal Vision, which developed technology for capturing 3D representations of environments and recreating them in virtual settings. The virtual reality headset maker Oculus, which is owned by Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), acquired Surreal Vision in 2015 for an undisclosed sum.

Other startups are also developing drones to perform inspections of buildings and industrial equipment. However, the majority of them appear to be concentrating on inspecting outdoor machinery, such as wind turbines and gas pipelines. Vtrus’s focus on equipment that’s kept indoors could help differentiate the company as it attempts to capture a share of the commercial drone market, which the research firm Global Market Insights projects will grow to more than $2 billion by 2023.

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