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Controversial drone company Xtend focuses on defense sector with new $40 million investment round

ByYasmeeta Oon

May 11, 2024

Controversial drone company Xtend focuses on defense sector with new $40 million investment round

Nearly a decade ago, Aviv and Matteo Shapira embarked on a technological journey that would lead them from enhancing sports broadcasts to reshaping drone and robotics applications in public safety and defense. Their initial venture, Replay, innovated a 360-degree video format that became a staple in major sports broadcasts. This venture not only caught the eye of Intel, which acquired Replay for approximately $175 million in 2016, but also set the stage for their future endeavors.

Following the acquisition, the Shapira brothers met Rubi Liani, founder of the Israeli drone racing league, FRIL. This meeting sparked their interest in drone technology, eventually leading to the foundation of Xtend. The company was co-founded with the vision of simplifying the operation of advanced robotics, making the control of drones as intuitive as using a smartphone.

Xtend has developed a versatile platform that facilitates the management of both in-house and third-party drones and robots. This technology allows operators to directly control devices through traditional means or via a VR headset, and also to train AI models. These AI models enhance drone functionality, enabling them to identify objects and navigate various environments, thereby extending their utility in complex operational scenarios.

  • Funding and Valuation: Recently, Xtend secured a $40 million funding round led by Chartered Group, which has elevated the company’s post-money valuation to around $110 million.
  • Operational Flexibility: Xtend’s system supports autonomous tasks such as indoor scanning and navigation between waypoints, while still allowing human supervisors to make critical decisions.
  • Team Coordination: The technology also enables a single supervisor to manage multiple robots performing tasks simultaneously at different locations, enhancing operational efficiency and response capability.

Xtend has increasingly aligned its products with needs in military, defense, and law enforcement sectors. The company holds contracts with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the U.S. Department of Defense, including a significant $9 million deal with the Pentagon’s irregular warfare office for the development and delivery of drone systems for operational evaluation.

Despite its technological advancements, Xtend’s focus on security applications has raised regulatory and ethical issues, particularly concerning the use of drones in law enforcement and surveillance. Concerns have been heightened by instances of drone usage in monitoring legal demonstrations, a practice that came under scrutiny during the administration of President Donald Trump.

Moreover, Xtend’s involvement in contentious settings has been noted by international watchdogs. Organizations like Statewatch and Informationsstelle Militarisierung (IMI) have criticized Xtend for receiving R&D funding from the EU’s Horizon Europe fund, despite prohibitions against funding military and defense projects.

Despite these challenges, Xtend continues to expand its market presence, claiming to have secured $50 million in contracts with over 50 organizations worldwide. The company’s technology is deployed in a variety of scenarios, including first response, search and rescue, and critical infrastructure inspection.

  • Total Funding Raised: With the latest funding round, Xtend has raised a total of $65 million.
  • Workforce Expansion: The company plans to increase its workforce by 50%, adding positions across the U.S., Israel, and Singapore.
  • Service Model Transition: Xtend is transitioning to a combination of platform-as-a-service and software-as-a-service models, aiming to broaden its commercial footprint.
  • International Expansion: A specific focus is being placed on expanding into the Japanese market.

In conclusion, Xtend’s journey from a sports replay innovator to a key player in drone and robotics technology illustrates the dynamic potential of drone technology. As the company continues to develop and deploy advanced systems, it navigates the complex interplay of innovation, regulation, and ethical considerations that define the modern drone industry.

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Featured Image courtesy of DALL-E by ChatGPT

Yasmeeta Oon

Just a girl trying to break into the world of journalism, constantly on the hunt for the next big story to share.

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