San Diego drone tech startup raises $165M to build AI pilot

drone ai pilot shield

Shield AI, an artificial intelligence company focusing on drones and other autonomous aircraft, is on a mission to build “the world’s best AI pilot.” To that end, the San Diego startup has raised $90 million in equity and $75 million in debt as part of a Series E fundraising round. The funding values Shield AI at $2.3 billion.

The company’s AI pilot is called Hivemind. It enables swarms of drones and aircraft to operate autonomously without GPS, communications, or a pilot. While Shield AI’s primary focus is on disrupting the defense sector with this technology, the company is also eyeing opportunities in commercial aviation.

Hivemind employs state-of-the-art algorithms for planning, mapping, and state-estimation to enable drones to execute dynamic flight maneuvers. On aircraft, Hivemind enables full autonomy and is designed to run fully on the edge, disconnected from the cloud, in high-threat GPS and communication-degraded environments.

Read: Video from Ukraine shows night vision drone bombing Russian soldiers

Brandon Tseng, Shield AI’s cofounder, president, and a former Navy SEAL, points out that drones with an AI pilot can give militaries a strategic, tactical, and cost advantage. Here’s Tseng:     

Russia and China are jamming GPS and communications. US and allied forces need swarms of resilient systems flown by AI pilots to operate in these denied environments. We call it low-cost, distributed strategic deterrence. If we had put up a bunch of AI-piloted drone swarms on the border of Ukraine, the Russians may have thought twice about invading.

The Series E round was led by Snowpoint Ventures, with participation from multiple top-tier venture funds including Riot Ventures, Disruptive, which led Shield AI’s Series D, and Homebrew, which led the company’s seed round. Doug Philippone, cofounder of Snowpoint Ventures, says:

Investors are flocking to quality. This round is a reflection of Shield AI’s success in creating great products, building a business with strong fundamentals, and dominant technological leadership – with an AI pilot proven to be the world’s best in numerous military evaluations. We love that they are leveraging an AI and software backbone across a variety of aircraft to deliver truly game-changing value to our warfighters. The work they are doing today is just the tip of the iceberg.

Read: Amazon to begin free drone delivery service in California


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