Chevron has its eyes on uncrewed helicopters

You might know Chevron as the company that enables you to put gas in your cars. But right now, Chevron has its eyes on drones — uncrewed helicopters to be exact. Chevron Technology Ventures was one of a handful of investors to toss over more money this month to SwissDrones. SwissDrones primarily bills itself as an aerial intelligence company.

SwissDrones announced the closing of its Series B equity growth funding round in May. With that, it secured more than $10 million across investors including DiamondStream Partners, Chevron Technology Ventures and Ingleside Investors. Though announced in May, the transaction closed on April 2, 2024.

“This investment will advance the Company’s ability to deliver its integrated solution combining long-range unmanned helicopters, aviation-grade flight operations and large-scale data analytics for crucial applications in public safety, search & reconnaissance, and infrastructure inspection globally,” according to a prepared statement from the company.

Why drones matter to Chevron

So what does this all have to do with Chevron? The oil and gas giant has long sought ways to improve its bottom line. In 1999, the company launched Chevron Technology Ventures (CTV) as its business and investment arm.

Chevron Technology Ventures officially states that it seeks ways to deliver “affordable, reliable and ever-cleaner energy.” In human speak, that means Chevron wants to build better, and more profitable products.

And it believes that SwissDrones very well could be one of them.

“With a solution that is designed to gather data more efficiently at lower cost and with less risk to workers, SwissDrones can enable advanced field operations and improved safety,” said Jim Gable, Vice President of Innovation in Chevron’s Technical Center and President of Technology Ventures at Chevron.

Chevron Technology Ventures is sticking SwissDrones in its Core Fund. That fund “focuses on high-growth startups and breakthrough technologies that have the potential to improve Chevron’s core oil and gas businesses,” Gable said.

Most experts consider the energy sector to be the largest industry within the commercial drone market.

Usign the AiRanger to inspect pipelines

Chevron Technology Ventures AiRangerChevron Technology Ventures AiRanger
The AiRanger has been cleared for use in pipeline surveillance. Photo courtesy of Chevron.

But SwissDrones is hardly Chevron’s only investment in the drone industry. Also this month, Chevron and American Aerospace Technologies, Inc. (AATI) recently made history as the first companies permitted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use uncrewed aircraft systems drones in airspace shared by crewed aircraft. The exact history-making aircraft? That’s the AiRanger made by AATI. It has an 18-foot wingspan and is equipped with artificial intelligence

Chevron plans to use drones to remotely monitor its vast network of pipelines.

“A UAS can give us an accurate, documented view of our pipeline,” said Roy Martinez, project manager for the UAS initiative and digital advisor for operations in Chevron’s Pipeline and Power business unit. “It allows us to gather data on hazard identification along the path of the pipeline and provide the FAA and industry with more information on what it’s like to employ this technology.”

And a couple years ago, Chevron used drones to conduct visual and thermal inspections of its onshore flare stacks in Indonesia.

What the funding round means for SwissDrones

The spring 2024 $10 million Series B funding round marks the second major funding round for the company. SwissDrones announced its seven-figure Series A funding round in January 2023.

DiamondStream Partners, which led the Series B, also led that Series A. DiamondStream Partners has historically invested in aviation and aerospace-related companies.

With headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland plus a manufacturing site in Buchs, Switzerland, the company has been around since 2013. SwissDrones builds long-range unmanned helicopter systems for commercial and public safety. Its designs its drones primarily for flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and for long-range, multi-hour missions.

Additionally, SwissDrones makes money through avenues including sales of its drones, operator training services, maintenance contracts, and sometimes even flight operations as a service depending on the geography.

SwissDrones also embraces an environmental benefit that aligns well with the goals of Chevron Technology Ventures to embrace cleaner energy. SwissDrones claims that its aircraft emit up to 95 percent fewer CO2 emissions than crewed helicopters.

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