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iRobot founder's new drone venture, CyPhy Works, scoops up $7 million

Posted by Scott Kirsner  November 5, 2013 07:00 AM

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More money is flowing into the Massachusetts robotics sector this week, with $7 million just deposited to the bank account of Danvers-based CyPhy Works, the drone startup from iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner.

The funding round is being led by Bilal Zuberi of Lux Capital, who previously worked at General Catalyst, the Cambridge venture capital firm that provided CyPhy's first infusion of cash. CyPhy has now raised about $10 million in total equity funding, but the company has also received several government R&D grants.

What makes CyPhy's drones unique is that they're tethered to a portable command station on the ground by a "microfilament" that's thinner than the cord on your headphones. The tether lets them stay up for extended periods, enables them to send high-def video to the ground, and makes jamming or intercepting their communications difficult. They're designed to be flown low to the ground, and even into buildings or under bridges. (I wrote about the company last December, when it first unveiled its flying bots.)

CyPhy's primary customers thus far, Greiner says, have been the Pentagon and the U.S. Army. But the new funding will be used to develop UAVs for commercial uses, she explains, in industries that may include agriculture, mining, oil and gas production, and construction. But commercial drones likely won't be cleared for take-off by the Federal Aviation Authority before 2015.

Greiner won't disclose the current employee count, but LinkedIn pegs it at about 10. Several are iRobot alumni.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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