Tekever has raised 23 million for industrial drone technology that is specifically designed for marine monitoring

Industrial drones are gaining off in the market, propelled by a new generation of software and hardware technologies that enhances battery life, reach, and performance, and an increasing number of enterprises investing in these services to up their data operations game. After experiencing great demand for its devices and services, a business focused solely on creating AI for drones for marine deployments is announcing a round of investment today.

Tekever, a company that makes drones with built-in artificial intelligence (AI) that are specially designed for monitoring and detecting activities on water, has received €20 million (about 23 million at today’s values). Iberis Capital and a number of undisclosed strategic marine investors also participated in the round, which was headed by Ventura Capital. It plans to use the funds to expand its workforce and further develop its technologies.

Tekever was created in 2001 and has only been selling commercial services since 2018. It is situated in ancient maritime powerhouse Lisbon, Portugal. However, it has been profitable for some time and is expected to expand at a 60 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the next three years. Indeed, this is the company’s first outside investment, which will be used to improve its technology and sell to a broader range of businesses as the business potential increases.

Governments and its agencies employ Tekever’s services to monitor seas for unlawful behaviour, while commercial shipping and other maritime enterprises use the drones to check weather patterns, traffic on the water, and other physical activities that might affect their operations.

Tekever was founded by a group of intelligence and AI experts, and co-founder and CEO Ricardo Mendes describes it as a vertically integrated company that designs and manufactures both its drones and the technology that is loaded onto them to monitor and “read” what is happening in the water below, as well as predict what will happen next.

A vertically integrated drone firm isn’t exactly uncommon, but the sequence in which Tekever constructed its stack is a bit different.

Mendes remarked, “We began from the opposite way of every other firm in the drone market.” The business initially set out to develop the technology necessary to understand its landscape — in this example, bodies of water — before designing drones capable of executing its programme. This featured antennas, sensors, and power that were all built into the aircraft’s body. (This also makes it very hard for the software to run on other aircraft at this time.) Meanwhile, the programme is designed to function with a combination of edge AI, satellite communications, and cloud computing.

It’s difficult to create your own highly specialised drone hardware (and expensive). However, it turns out that this was done on purpose. Tekever offers both parts and services, but its main business is operating its own fleet and selling consumers Atlas-branded drone-based surveillance services, which Mendes defined to me as “intelligence as a service.” He claimed that strategy was adopted deliberately to make its goods as broadly available as possible, since its drones — which have wingspans ranging from two to eight metres and can fly for up to 20 hours — are too expensive for everyone except the largest clients.

“The question we set out to answer was, ‘What do you need to do to make this easy and accessible to everyone, not just the wealthiest countries?” he said. “Drones are just one link in the chain.”

Both the European Maritime Security Agency (EMSA) and the United Kingdom’s Home Office, as well as smaller African countries, are users of Tekever. They employ the equipment to monitor their seas for piracy, narcotics, human trafficking, migrant smuggling, pollution, illicit fishing, and infrastructure security risks, among other things.

According to a recent report in the Guardian, European government agencies are spending millions of euros on drones and other military technology to expand their surveillance of refugee groups, with the clear message that these investments are not deterring illegal migration but rather encouraging vulnerable people to take even more dangerous routes. Others in the field, such as Anduril, have earned significant financial gains based on their own controversies. Tekever’s CEO and creator, on the other hand, feels that his firm not only fills a technological vacuum in the market, but that its application also assures that it causes more good than damage.

“There are a lot of unknowns about what’s going on when you’re talking about enormous expanses like the ocean,” he added. Organizations have traditionally depended on satellite imaging to get images of what is happening in the water, but this is inefficient since most satellite data is days old by the time it is seen by a user. “Fishing, smuggling, human trafficking, and immigration are all sectors that need real-time information. It’s not simply film; it’s the start of a solution to the issue. The goal is to be able to intervene before anything terrible occurs,” and to be able to foresee what will happen since Tekever is utilising predictive analytics.

“What we’re doing is accumulating massive quantities of data to fix issues as they arise,” he said, emphasising that because of how quickly circumstances may change in the water, even having an additional five minutes to react can make a difference. For the UK’s Home Office, one goal has been to detect migrant boats in the English Channel and assist in escorting them to land in order to avert potentially fatal accidents. “The media concentrates on the migration problem itself,” he continued, “but it’s a major humanitarian issue.”

There are a plethora — perhaps a sea — of options for Tekever to improve its technology in the future. Mendes said that looking at and understanding bodies of water necessitates the processing of massive quantities of data, but this also provides the organisation with a great number of datasets to work with. It hasn’t yet been able to detect underwater activity, which requires lidar and radar on seacraft today, but that’s an area it’s working on. Another task, he noted, is to locate and characterise oil spills.

Tekever’s current concentration is on “the blue economy,” as Mendes characterised it to me, but it is also breaking ground on… earth. Its main goal seems to be to keep attempting to come up with new methods to look at the most difficult terrains. Forestry, notably rainforest, is one area he mentioned as one where it wishes to do more. It invested in Santos Lab, a Brazilian drone business, few years ago, giving it a presence in that region.

In a statement, Mo El Husseiny, managing partner at Ventura Capital, said, “Tekever is a very unconventional UAS company and a market leader with outclass technology, thousands of hours of operational experience, a seasoned leadership team, and a phenomenal and profitable business vision in a fast-growing market.” “As a result of these characteristics, it has become a hallmark investment for Ventura, matched with our portfolio of technological disruptors.”

“Tekever is one of the hottest European Deeptech scaleups, and we’re extremely delighted to continue collaborating with the team and assist them disrupt the worldwide industry,” said Iberis Capital partner Diogo Chalbert Santos. “It’s incredible what Tekever has accomplished as a bootstrapped company, and I’d say the sky is the limit with this round.” (It seems that Santos, an investor after my own heart, can’t resist a pun.)