Cisco executive chairman John Chambers believes there’s money to be made in drones.
The networking giant’s former CEO has invested in and taken a board seat with fast-rising drone software startup Airware,
This is Chambers’ first investment and board seat since he resigned as Cisco CEO (CSCO) last summer as well as his first board seat position since he joined Walmart’s (WMT) over 15 years ago, Chambers said in an interview with Fortune.
Airware creates drone software for businesses to help the flying robots navigate to their destinations and collect and transmit information like aerial photographs to servers on the ground, where the data can be analyzed.
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The drone startup said on Thursday that it added Chambers to its board as part of the close of a $30 million funding round led by Next World Capital. Besides Chambers, venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers also participated in the investment.
Airware now has $70 million in total funding.
For Chambers, drones represent an important element in the so-called Internet of things, in which devices like factory machinery and automobiles can be connected to web so the data they collect can be more easily analyzed. Both Chambers and his CEO successor Chuck Robbins have been vocal about the idea of connected devices and how the influx of data gleaned from these devices can be used to make better business decisions and improve operations.
For example, General Electric (GE), one of Airware’s clients, is experimenting with drones to speed up inspection of power lines and reduce the risk of injury for its workers.
Additionally, Airware CEO Jonathan Downey said that insurance giant State Farm is now a customer. State Farm will conduct “hundreds of test flights” across the U.S. over the next several months to inspect rooftops while Airware’s drone software helps collect data for fulfilling insurance claims, said Downey.
Chambers said he’s hopeful that Airware can sell its software and drone services (the company also does consulting) to telecommunications companies along with the oil and gas businesses as it tries to expand its clientele.
Airware is not alone in trying to convince businesses that drones are more than just devices for hobbyists. The startup Skycatch, for example, sells a combination of software and drone hardware tailored for the construction industry. China-based drone maker DJI is also branching out from the consumer market to partner with a camera company on thermal imaging technology that firefighters or farmers could potentially use to take pictures that log variations in temperature.
The competition doesn’t seem to bother Chambers, however, who said that Airware’s technology can be tailored to work across different industries “as opposed to small pieces of the pie.”
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But he recognizes the fact that Airware faces a competitive market and is still a young company that needs to be ready to change as the market does.
“I don’t underestimate the challenges and they will make mistakes,” Chambers said. “That’s part of the fun about being an adviser where you got to help them navigate through that.”