PrecisionHawk has folded

While we are here leading the cheers for all the big established companies, the start-ups and the entrepreneurs working hard every day to propel forward the commercial drone industry, we must acknowledge that the industry is still a business; and in business, sometimes things to not work out.

And things tragically have not worked out for US drone services company PrecisionHawk, which was forced to close operations early this year.

At one point, PrecisionHawk was one of the real giants in the industry, with headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina in the US, another global office in Toronto, Canada; and satellite offices around the world. We are also sure it made those important drone-company-of-the-year lists by Drone Industry Insights more than once.

That the company is now auctioning, among other accessories, about 140 drones that were part of its inventory, should be enough to tell the story of how big it got at its peak.

Aside from it being sad, we have to say it feels really strange to write the obituary for a company that raised a total of $136million in investments not too long ago.

More than $100million of those funds were raised in 2018 and 2019 alone.

But over time, PrecisionHawk has accrued so much debt that it was struggling to even keep the lights on at its headquarters in Raleigh. The company’s rent arrears grew to $242,667, which would look like small change in comparison to the $17.5 million PecisionHawk owes its creditors in total; according to the company’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing.

The filing also noted that the company’s remaining assets will only amount to around $3.8 million in assets, which a court-appointed trustee will use to pay some of the creditors.

It looks like unsecured creditors will lose out.

“The company did not have sufficient capital to maintain operations,” Jason Hendren, the bankruptcy attorney in Raleigh who is representing PrecisionHawk told the News & Observer, a local newspaper in North Carolina.

Along with the drones, PrecisionHawk will also be auctioning several drone-based data collection accessories.

Some of the drones to be auctioned

“This is an online only US Federal Bankruptcy auction of over 100 drones, more than 50 separate sensor units, 20 plus auxiliary cameras and lenses, auxiliary charging stations, and other items from PrecisionHawk, a national drone survey company that specialised in utility inspection, long range survey, agricultural survey, etc,” a statement about the auction reads.

The statement adds that more drone units and accessories would be added as the inventory process progresses.

“This auction will include the drone units (most with chargers, batteries, controls, and hard cases). The auction will also include some bulk charging stations and accessory packs. In addition to the drones, this auction will also include a large number of accessory cameras, accessory sensors (including FLIR units, LIDAR, thermal, and multi-source sensor units).”

During its heyday, PrecisionHawk used this equipment to capture agricultural and inspection data for its clients, who at one point included five of the top ten utility companies in the US, the largest provider of communications infrastructure, and the “Big Six” providers of seed and agricultural chemicals in the country.

“To the best of our knowledge and ability, we have separated all of the known or obviously damaged drones, incomplete units, surplus parts, empty cases, support equipment, etc. from this equipment and those items will be sold on a separate on location only auction at our CBA Warehouse facility located at 1211 W. 5th Street in Washington on Wednesday, April 3, 2024,” the statement added.

“We suggest that drone enthusiasts, industry professionals, drone repair companies, drone part companies, etc. make arrangements to attend this auction due to the large amount of items that will be sold apart from the online only drone auction. These items will be listed on our 4/3/24 auction page.”

Since its inception in 2010, PrecisionHawk has made some pivots to its business model: the company arrived on the scene as a drone manufacturer, before pivoting to using third-party drones for remote sensing applications and data processing.

Originally known as WineHawk, PrecisionHawk was founded in Toronto, Canada by Ernest Earon and Gabriele D’Eleuterio as a manufacturer of autonomous, hand-launched, fixed-wing drones used to dispel predatory birds over vineyards (hence, the name WineHawk).

Christopher Dean joined that same year as the company’s first CEO, and the direction of the company soon shifted with the addition of cameras to the aircraft that could provide clients with an aerial view of their fields

Rebranding itself as PrecisionHawk in 2012, it focused on enterprise industrial applications such as agriculture, energy, solar, oil & gas, and telecommunications.

PrecisionHawk made a lot of money during its life

And business was good: the company released its Lancaster drone in 2012, founded DataMapper two years later in 2014, launched LATAS in 2015; the same year it acquired TerraServer; and in 2016, it began manufacturing sensors.

In addition to the major clients mentioned above, PrecisionHawk also scored big when DJI, the world’s biggest drone maker, dropped AirMap, PrecisionHawk’s competitor at the time, replacing it with the latter as its new provider of airspace data in North America.

That DJI account made PrecisionHawk the geofencing technology provider behind DJI’s drones in North America. Drone geofencing is a technology pioneered by DJI that creates a virtual fence, or no-fly zone, around areas where DJI does not want its drones venturing into for legal, safety and security reasons; such as near airports.

In January 2018 PrecisionHawk announced a capital injection of $75million in a round of funding led by Third Point Ventures, with participation from a number of other investors, including Intel Capital, Comcast Ventures, Verizon Ventures, NTT Docomo Ventures, Senator Ventures, Yamaha Motor, Constellation Technology Ventures, and Syngenta Ventures, the venture capital arm of agricultural giant Syngenta.

At the time, the company’s CEO said the investment would be used to build upon PrecisionHawk’s advantage on the commercial drone space by expanding its team, developing its products, and making “strategic acquisitions.

And the company did exactly that: Shortly afterwards, it announced that it was acquiring two commercial drone pilot networks, Droners and AirVid, creating a massive network of licensed drone pilots.

The company wanted to merge its two acquisitions under the Droners brand to form an immediate network of 15,000 drone pilots across the US, which would be used not only as a channel for connecting drone pilots with companies directly, but also serve PrecisionHawk’s own enterprise client base.

In March last year, PrecisionHawk was acquired by Norwegian inspection and mapping company Field, which viewed the acquisition as its doorway to the American market. Field hoped it would use PrecisionHawk’s artificial intelligence and drone technology for infrastructure management for its clients, which included multiple Fortune 500 companies.

But it was after the acquisition that it became clear how much serious business trouble PrecisionHawk was experiencing.

“We knew it would be a challenge to make PrecisionHawk profitable in the short term,” said Krister A. Pedersen, who stepped in as interim CEO of Field in September 2023 after former CEO Cato Vevatne stepped down.

“Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t turn it around in time, and we have had to close the office.”

Sadly, it seems Field had arrived too late to the party; as it announced in October 2023 that it would close the PrecisionHawk office in Raleigh.

According to The Drone Girl, the Field Group itself will be starting somewhat afresh as a solo operator after being acquired by existing shareholders. Some investors have expressed interest in acquiring Field Group’s traditional business, while former Field board chair Arild Austigard and partners are set to acquire Field Group’s drone activity.

Field’s UAV division will continue working on unmanned technology and inspection services, albeit under a new entity and a new brand.

“I am pleased that we have found a solution for Field Group where we can take over the ownership of the drone activities in the company,” Austigard said in a statement.

“The use of drones is part of the future solution that both ensures efficient solutions and the environmental challenges we face, and the employees in Field Group working in the drone business have what it takes to succeed in the future.”


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