Autonomous aviation startup Xwing completed a $ 10 million financing round before COVID-19 arrived. Now the San Francisco-based startup is using the capital to hire talent and scale the development of its software stack, as it is slated for commercial operations later this year – subject to FAA approval.
The company announced its Series A financing round early on, led by R7 Partners with the participation of VC Alven, Eniac Ventures and Thales Corporate Ventures. Xwing has already hired several key executives with this new capital injection, including Terrafugia Former co-founder and COO Anna Dietrich and Ed Lim, a veteran of Lockheed Martin and Aurora Flight Sciences, have recently led navigation and controls for Uber's autonomous vehicle division and Zipline's AV delivery drone.
Xwing differs from some other autonomous aviation startups that have surfaced in recent years. The startup does not build autonomous helicopters and airplanes. Instead, it focuses on the software stack that enables pilotless flights by small passenger aircraft.
Xwing is also aircraft independent. The company's engineers focus on the key functions of autonomous flight, such as perception, reasoning and control. The software stack, which is designed for various types of aircraft, is integrated into existing aerospace systems. According to founder and CEO Marc Piette, this strategy of retrofitting existing aircraft will accelerate deployment while ensuring safety and keeping costs under control. It is also a straight path to regulatory approval.
"It is more effective for us not to limit ourselves to a specific vehicle and to develop technologies that are seen as pioneers from a marketing perspective rather than going full-stack," said Piette when asked if Xwing would ever try to build an autonomous airplane from scratch.
Since Xwing's last round of funding – $ 4 million in the summer of 2018 – the company has continued to develop its technology and is working with the FAA to obtain flight certification for pilotless aircraft. After approval, the company will attempt to commercialize pilotless flights.
The startup has not yet named any commercial partners. And Piette hasn't released any details about his business strategy, either, although he said he'll be expecting further announcements this year.
Xwing is already working with Bell For the NASA Unmanned Aircraft Systems program (UAS in NAS), an initiative was to develop the most important remaining technologies that are required for the integration of unmanned aircraft into US airspace. The program provides for demonstration flights this summer.