Saildrone catches a $100M C breeze to build more robo-boats

·3 min read
Several Saildrone vessels float in formation on the ocean.

The ocean economy is growing in importance, and with it grows the need to map, understand and track the ocean itself. Saildrone has been doing just that with its fleet of autonomous science vessels, and the company has now raised a massive $100 million round C to pursue its ro-boat aspirations further.

Saildrone's boats — uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs), as they call them — have been in continuous use for years now, making all kinds of interesting voyages that would be too dangerous or too tedious for a human crew to attempt. For instance earlier this month one of the vessels sailed straight into a hurricane for a NOAA project to better understand these increasingly frequent and violent storms. Good luck getting someone to brave 50-foot waves and 120 mph winds to collect some data when there's a robotic option.

Having traveled half a million miles collectively, Saildrone's fleet is the most seasoned set of autonomous boats out there, and that makes for an attractive market position as marine intelligence becomes more important. Not only is knowing the condition of the ocean in a given location helpful for scientific and expected purposes like steering ships around storms, but the vast quantities of systematically collected data will help build a new fundamental understanding of the complex aquatic ecosystem during climate change and a shift toward sustainable aquaculture.

Saildrone is the go-to name in autonomous science boats. Others are approaching the new blue economy from other directions: autonomous tugs and commercial boats from Sea Machines (which recently demonstrated a thousand-mile sailing), while EcoDrone and Sea Proven are looking to compete with smaller or more customizable ships. And there's a whole separate world of underwater drones that will be zooming around mapping the sea bed, like Bedrock's.

But Saildrone isn't standing still, or rather sitting at anchor. Its newest vessel, the Surveyor, can spend a year at sea and map the ocean floor past two miles of depth. They aren't cheap, though, and if the company wants to capture as much of the "ocean domain intelligence" sector as possible it will need to scale fast. That's what the hundred mil is for, presumably.

The C round was led by BOND and with participation from XN, Standard Investments, Emerson Collective, Crowley Maritime Corporation, Capricorn’s Technology Impact Fund, Lux Capital, Social Capital and Tribe Capital. The "data insight teams" will be hired up and they'll put the money to good use on "go-to-market functions," which I suppose is VC jargon for building boats.

"The combination of the most tried and tested autonomous ocean technology with the partnership of some of the most experienced venture capitalists in the world consolidates our industry leadership and enables our rapid growth path to meet the needs of our customers," said Saildrone CEO and founder Richard Jenkins in the press release. No doubt we'll be hearing more about their missions in years to come as their star rises.

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