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Controversial drone company Xtend leans defensive in new $40M funding round

Nearly a decade ago, brothers Aviv and Matteo Shapira co-founded Replay, a company that created a 360-degree replay video format. Replays have become an important part of major sporting event broadcasts.

Replay caught the attention of Intel, which purchased the company in 2016 for a reported $175 million, and gave Aviv and Matteo the opportunity to meet with Rubi Liani, founder of Israel’s official Drone Racing League (FRIL).

Liani got the brothers into drone racing and sowed the seeds of the idea for their next startup, Xtend, which he helped found.

“As founders, we saw an opportunity to bridge the gap between our experiences,” Aviv told TechCrunch. “We recognize the exceptional skills required to control advanced robots, especially drones. Our vision is to develop technology that makes controlling these robots intuitive and easy to operate, just like how users can interact with their smartphones without in-depth technical knowledge. “

Xtend provides a platform that allows operators to manage drones and robots developed in-house by Xtend and third-party vendors. With Xtend’s platform, operators can directly control drones and robots (with optional VR headsets) or train AI models deployed on drones to recognize objects and help navigate indoor/outdoor environments. Today, the company announced the completion of US$40 million in financing led by Chartered Group, with a post-money valuation of approximately US$110 million.

“Our platform enables drones and robots to autonomously handle specific tasks, such as entering buildings and scanning floors,” Aviv said. “Crucially, it allows ‘common sense’ decisions – such as judging a situation or adapting to unforeseen circumstances – to remain in the hands of human regulators.”

Xtend allows operators to orchestrate teams of drones and robots (rather than just individual machines) and have them perform certain tasks autonomously, such as moving from one waypoint to another. Xtend is always analyzing data from past deployments to advise operators on possible actions to take.

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Xtend’s Wolverine drone.

“Xos enables one supervisor to oversee a group of robots performing tasks in different locations simultaneously,” Aviv said. “We believe full autonomy is not the end goal, but a subset of capabilities.”

Xtend positions its technology as general-purpose, targeting customers in industries ranging from public safety to logistics. But the company relies heavily on military, defense and law enforcement applications.

Xtend has contracts with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the U.S. Department of Defense to “develop and deliver its systems,” including drone interception systems, for “operational evaluation,” including a $9 million deal with the Pentagon’s Office of Unconventional Warfare protocol. Aviv has not been shy about expressing the company’s ambitions to expand into what he calls “new civilian market opportunities,” such as private and public safety.

“Imagine a police officer coordinating a drone search for a suspect over a large area,” Aviv said. “Xos can help these professionals leverage robotic assistance.”

This can be problematic because regulations are still lacking for law enforcement and drones have been used to monitor legal demonstrations. In 2020, for example, congressional Democrats sounded the alarm that then-President Donald Trump’s administration used drones and spy planes to watch demonstrations in Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., Al Jazeera reported Activity.

Additionally, Xtend has recently found itself in the spotlight of international surveillance.

An analysis by Statewatch and Informationstelle Militarisierung (IMI) found that Xtend and other Israeli military companies and institutions involved in drone deployments received research and development funding from the EU’s Horizon Europe fund despite an EU ban on funding military and defense projects. .

Aviv, who has taken a strongly pro-Israel stance in the country’s ongoing war with Hamas, told Ctech that Xtend has “refocused its efforts to support the Israel Defense Forces 100 percent.” Xtend posted testimonials from the Israeli army in Gaza on its website, saying it enables “soldiers to maneuver accurately in complex combat scenarios.”

Aviv told the Wall Street Journal that Xtend has been working with the Israel Defense Forces for some time, initially to shoot down incendiary balloons coming from the Gaza Strip. Since then, its drones have been used to map and reconnoitre the underground tunnels dug by Hamas in Gaza and, more shockingly, on reconnaissance missions equipped with explosive payloads such as grenades.

Controversial as it may be, the strategy appears to be working for Xtend’s business. The company said it has won $50 million worth of contracts to date across a customer base of “more than 50” organizations, including government defense agencies.

“We are unlocking the true potential of robotics in complex scenarios, including first response, search and rescue, and critical infrastructure inspections,” Aviv said. “Hundreds of Xtend drones and robotic systems are already deployed around the world, and we are continuing to develop Xos and these platforms to enable the future of human-robot collaboration.”

The new round of financing brings Xtend’s total funding to $65 million, and Xtend plans to increase its headcount of 110 employees in the United States, Israel and Singapore by 50% by the end of this year, while moving to a platform-as-a-service approach. Service and software-as-a-service sales models. On the roadmap is international expansion, with a particular focus on Japan.

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