Pyka, an electric autonomous airplane manufacturer, has closed on a $37 million Series A funding round that will allow the startup to fast track the production of its Pelican aircraft to committed buyers and beef up its research and development.
This comes after an $11 million seed round in 2019. This most recent round was led by Piva Capital—a venture firm in San Francisco that invests in companies that offer cross-industry technological solutions—and Prelude Ventures, whose mission is to support companies addressing climate change.
In a statement, Pyka CEO Michael Norcia said, “We are extremely pleased with this successful raise and the opportunities it affords Pyka to rapidly boost our manufacturing and begin executing on our more than $320 million in MOUs and commercial agreements from customers.”
Based in Oakland, California, Pyka developed the world’s first and only commercially certified autonomous electric airplane, the Pelican. It’s a fully autonomous, crop-spraying aircraft with LIDAR-enabled collision and terrain avoidance systems. The aircraft is powered by three electric motors and redundant batteries and it can take off in as little as 450 feet and spray up to 130 acres an hour at a fifth of the operating costs of piloted aircraft.
Each Pelican has six processors on two separate computers that process millions of inputs per second from the aircraft’s:
- Forward-facing LIDAR
- Downward-facing lasers
- Redundant inertial measurement units
- Redundant air data booms for collection
The aircraft also features automated spray systems with variable-speed electric rotary atomizers and a proprietary high-speed centrifugal electric pump.
The Pelican can adjust its flow rate and droplet size throughout the flight to maximize application efficiency and precision and its airframe and structural components comprise high-performance carbon fiber composite parts, corrosion-resistant metallic pieces, and 3D-printed assemblies.
The same design is being modified for 200-mile radius cargo operations.
That airplane is currently being used to perform complex commercial agricultural operations in several countries, such as banana spraying in Costa Rica. The company also completed a recent partnership with EmbraerX (NYSE: ERJ) to expand into Brazil.
A spokesperson for the company also said Pyka has established two large agriculture clients in Latin America and is spraying at 80 acres per hour autonomously. So far, Pyka has produced seven planes for client work and is working toward establishing its assembly capabilities outside of California.
The company is now working with the FAA to advance a 44807 Commercial Exemption that would allow it to expand operations into the U.S.
Mark Gudiksen, a managing partner at Piva Capital, described the partnership with Pyka as game-changing for sustainable air transport and said, “we’ve been impressed with Pyka’s pace of innovation and unique approach to agriculture and logistics marketplaces. We look forward to helping the company rapidly scale to other industries and continue its pioneering vision to make autonomous aircraft more accessible, affordable, and better for the environment.”
Additionally, Prelude Ventures’ managing partner Tim Woodward said this was a perfectly aligned match for his firm.
“Pyka is providing major agriculture and logistics industries with real solutions to transition to a low-carbon economy.”